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A tunnel visionary

Some men turn heads at traffic lights with sports cars and thumping music; Welshman Martyn Pitt does it by virtue of his mole-catching enterprise. ?Honestly, I have had people taking pictures of me at the lights when they see the signwriting on the side of my vehicle,? he admitted.

Love it or hate it, the mole seems to have a special place in the hearts of the public. The animal has featured in cartoons, logos and throughout literary history ? I vaguely remember from my student days a poem by the Romantic poet John Clare, in which he mourned the ?mouldewarps? that were hung from a fence by the mole catcher of the time.

But times have changed, and it is rare to see gibbets or moles hanging up anymore. When I was a lad, I remember waiting patiently for a molehill to stir before giving it both barrels at close range from a 12-bore. This was the connoisseur?s method, and was highly effective, but it?s probably not to be encouraged in these safety-conscious times due to the possibility of ricochets.

But why control moles at all? Apart from aesthetic reasons such as to prevent the ruin of a highly-prized lawn, there are also practical reasons. While moles may aerate the soil, they also bring bacteria to the surface which, when mingled with silage, has been linked to abortions in livestock. Livestock are also vulnerable to joint damage should they put a foot through a tunnel.

Learning the trade

Martyn is perhaps one of a new breed of mole catchers who genuinely care about the animal and are fascinated by its lifestyle and mythology. So how did the quietly spoken Martyn ? a regional officer for the National Organisation of Beaters and Pickers-up ? get into mole catching after his career as a builder?

?I decided to try something different two years ago and was looking for something related to the countryside,? he told me. ?An ex-footballer friend purchased an old church and asked me what I knew about mole trapping. I admitted that I knew nothing, but I made it my business to find out. I went home and started trawling the web for information. That?s when I stumbled across the website for The Guild Of British Mole Catchers.

The Guild offers thorough training with the emphasis on good practice and observing the law.

?After browsing the website it soon became clear that there were only a handful of fully qualifi ed mole catchers in Wales. In order to join the Guild I had to make a small donation to the charity Make-A-Wish Foundation UK. Once this was paid I was able to start my Level 1 qualification with the Guild and the National Pest Technicians? Association. Level 1 consists of 15 questions of which 10 must be correctly answered. Level 2 is a cross section of random questions covering more in-depth topics relating to moles and their control ? full marks are required to pass and progress to the next level. Level 3 ? the last level in the scheme ? will identify a broad knowledge of the subjects surrounding moles and their control by traps. As with level 2, a score of 100 per cent is required. There is also a day?s course that I would recommend.

?Once I had all the qualifications I needed, I had signs made for the truck and some business cards printed. My first job was on a farm in my local area so that?s where I learned my trade. It?s the experience that makes you a good trapper.?

Martyn took me to a farm he was working at and showed me what to look for. ?The moles,? he said, ?tend to lie up under the subterranean roots of hedges and move out into the fields to search for worms. It is common to see
lines of molehills under fencing ? this is where dew has dripped from the wire, keeping the ground moist and attracting plenty of worms?.

So, where do you set the trap? Where the mole is working amid fresh hills or on the line back to the hedge? ?Put it this way ? if you wanted to catch a human, you would set your trap on the stairs as they?ll use these at least twice a day. Likewise the tunnel going from the sleeping area out into the field is the best place,? said Martyn.

Martyn generally uses the well-known Duffus trap and the scissor trap. The Duffus can be set at any depth, while the scissor trap is for tunnels close to the surface. What is crucial is that no light can enter after the trap has been set or the mole will simply force soil into the area, blocking the trap. Along with the traps, Martyn carries markers for locating the traps, a probe to locate the tunnel, a trowel for digging, a hooked wire rod for cleaning out the tunnel, a runner tool for smoothing the floor of the tunnel and welding rods that can be bent and used to form a roof over the trap if it is set deep in the ground.

I left Martyn to his solitary work. It had been a fascinating foray into an almost secret world and a career I wouldn?t mind pursuing part-time myself someday.