There are an estimated 33 to 40 million European moles (talpa europaea) in the UK and they create a lot of damage that requires a great deal of time and money to correct. As a result, mole trapping has become big business.
I made the journey to the Georgian harbour town of Whitehaven in Cumbria, England to meet one of the best mole catchers in the business: Bob Merrin is a great character of the British countryside and a living legend. Aged nearly 70, his mind is still pin-sharp. He has the ability to spot, create, build and trap almost anything with a pulse.
He is a font of knowledge of all things countryside; his forté is being a master at mole trapping. He is living proof that skills honed over many decades are just as, if not more, effective than the quick chemical fix and the certification mentality that modern society demands.
He removes thousands of moles each year, which succumb to his homemade traps. Little wonder, then, that he needs no certificate to persuade would-be customers of his skills. Aluminum phosphide is the only chemical compound legally authorised to control moles, but with trapping you know you have got the culprit and it doesn’t harm the environment.
Bob uses a unique trap designed by the late Bill Troughton. These traps were originally made out of ash but the wood degraded. Bob discovered that gas piping does the same job yet withstands Mother Nature. In the hands of beginners and experts alike, his full-barrel mole traps have caught moles, but how do they work? “Get inside the head of the mole, think like a mole and you will catch your mole,” is Bob’s motto.
On a brisk and breezy Cumbrian afternoon we went on a walkabout to set and check some traps. Carrying his green shopping basket full of traps, he showed me the feed runs coming out of the ditches and walls. Bob sets his traps to intercept the moles on the way from their home to their feeding ground.
Watching Bob’s dexterity as he set the traps, which were laid so that they are invisible, was fascinating. The traps are placed within a mole run, which enables the mole to continuing travelling until it pushes the trigger that releases the tethering knot.
A noose springs up and catches and despatches the mole in one fell swoop. It is primitive, but quick and humane.