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Going underground with a Suffolk molecatcher

PUBLISHED: 16:34 13 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013

Going underground with a Suffolk molecatcher

Going underground with a Suffolk molecatcher

Since harsh chemical poisons were banned, the rural art of mole catching has been experiencing something of a resurgence. Julian Claxton finds out more

Since harsh chemical poisons were banned, the rural art of mole catching has been experiencing something of a resurgence. Julian Claxton finds out more

The profession of the mole catcher is an ancient one, dating back to the early parish enclosures and up until the mid 20th century this kind of work was an integral part of the rural community.
There was, at that time, significant money to be made by the roaming individuals, who would often drift between several villages servicing the needs of land owners and farmers who were in despair over an influx of moles on their land.
It wasnt just the land owners that the mole catchers made money from. There was also a thriving market in the sale of the velvety skins to furriers who were eager to get their hands on quality pelts, which were often used for items such as waistcoats each of which required around 100 skins.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, mole catchers, often elected by parish officials and church wardens, would occasionally be offered long term contracts for the management of the mole population, being paid a sum of money per acre of land in the village.
The problems caused by moles were taken very seriously. Many of the large estates throughout East Anglia employed their own dedicated mole catcher, while elsewhere groups of farmers often cooperated to split the costs of the catcher.
Moles are productive little creatures, creating a labyrinth of tunnels and chambers that cover acres of land. They are largely solitary creatures often working for around four hours and then enjoying four hours rest.
A single mole is able to dig 90 metres of tunnel in a day. These tunnels can be devastating to the land above and makes it easy to understand why the mole is disliked by those attempting to make a living from the land.
In the early 60s the industry began to notice significant change. Moleskins were suddenly no longer in demand, and the government granted the use of chemicals to control the mole population. These chemicals largely consisted of a range of deadly poisons and gases all of which were legalised to be used on the land in the fight against the mole.
The new government appointed mole control man could turn up with his container of deadly concoctions and do the job of the traditional mole catcher in a fraction of the time and also at a fraction of the cost.
But in the 21st century, the pendulum has swung back in favour of a new breed of traditional mole catcher.
The chemical strychnine, which for many years was used to eradicate moles has been banned, and with other chemical methods far from ideal the mole population has been enjoying rapid growth throughout the UK.

During the winter months demand for mole catchers is particularly high and it most certainly cannot be said to be a glamorous job

With an estimated 35 million moles now digging away on British farmland, it is no surprise that the job of mole catcher is enjoying a resurgence.
One of the new generation of mole catchers can be found in the heart of rural Suffolk.
Halesworth-based Steve Tricker is a genuine Suffolk character, born and bred in the county, he is a proud Suffolk man with a passion and genuine love for his profession.
I caught my first mole when I was just four years old. I remember it vividly. I was in my grandfathers garden and I was thrilled, says Steve.
My fathers friend was a mole catcher, and during the week I would skip school in favour of following him and learning about the trade. I guess from that moment on I was destined to become a mole catcher.
The methods used today remain largely the same as they have been for generations.
The tools of the trade are fairly basic traps, flags to help locate the traps once they have been set, a prod to locate the tunnels and a trowel to dig down. The most common trap used by professional mole catchers is known as the half barrel. Steve uses this trap, which is also often referred to as the Duffus trap. These are made in the UK and are highly efficient.
Although I catch moles for a living I hate to think of them having any unnecessary suffering, says Steve.
The Duffus traps when set by a professional will kill the mole instantly by catching it around the upper body.
While setting the traps is pretty quick work, it is imperative to place them just in the right area and in the correct tunnel as Steve says: The key is to really understand the little creatures. You need to know what their habits are and how they like to work. This will all aid the catch.
Once sited in the tunnels, the traps are usually left for around 24 hours, at which point Steve returns to check progress.
The busiest time of year for a mole catcher like Steve is generally between September and April. The ground is softer and wetter perfect conditions for the breeding of moles.
During the winter months demand for mole catchers is particularly high and it most certainly cannot be said to be a glamorous job. With early starts and wet and cold conditions, it is imperative to be passionate about the job.
Steve, who also occasionally manages local rabbit populations, is really in his element working the land.
I love it, he says enthusiastically. I pride myself on my work and love working in the wonderful Suffolk countryside even in the depths of winter, when I can often be on my own for hours. I wouldnt change a thing!

Steve Tricker, traditional mole catcher can be contacted on 0778 7373205.


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