For an animal that few people have ever seen, moles have an unfortunate notoriety: the spoils of their labour are seen as something of a nuisance and the culprits have received short shrift from gardeners. But there is much to be said for moles as part of our native fauna, and molehills might deserve a more forgiving attitude in the garden.
Throughout 2007-2008 we ran a public participation survey called MoleWatch asking people to help us to take advantage of the fact that moles leave such obvious signs in finding out where they are – and we collected a mountain of molehill records! Over 5,000 people sent in records of molehills – or their absence – from their gardens and sites across the wider countryside, and from these we were able to create the map below. Molehill presence absence map.
If we then divide the country up into 10km squares and mark the squares with black (positive records) and red (negative records) circles we get more information. The scarcity of records from central Wales, north England and Scotland reflects the smaller number of surveyors in these regions rather than an absence of moles. 10km distribution map 2007-2008. There are still many squares we need to survey, but the results show that the mole is still a widespread species across the country.
More work on the data is still to be done but it might provide information about the habitat that moles prefer, and – if the relationship between the number of moles and the number of molehills becomes better understood – the survey will give an indication of the abundance of moles as well as their whereabouts.
did you know?
The amount of oxygen in tunnels can be only a third of that at the surface and to deal with this, moles have a greater volume of blood and twice as much haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying blood pigment, as other mammals of a similar size. Moreover, the haemoglobin has a particularly high affinity for oxygen, rivalling that of the high-altitude llama.
An adult mole will eat about half its body weight a day, mainly of soil invertebrates such as earthworms, insect larvae, myriapods and slugs, but they will also feed on carrion.
Moles are widespread through mainland Britain and the islands of Skye, Mull, Anglesey, Wight, Alderney and Jersey but they are absent from Ireland.
Thank you again for taking part in the survey – learning about the distribution and abundance of wild mammals is the first step in future conservation efforts, and we need your help.
Above all we need the experience and enthusiasm of volunteers like you. Living with Mammals is an ongoing project to record mammals in the green spaces of the built environment – gardens, allotments, playing fields and the like. If you think you might be able to take part next spring, please read more here.