A BASE LOCATION
Create a base location map of your chosen mole’s habitat.
As a national project any information gathered will assist in understanding moles, their behaviour and how they live and adapt across the whole of the United Kingdom. So that the information can be collated to the demands placed on moles in every location it is required that the base information to your moles chosen habitat is recorded and you will work from this as your main reference to compare any changes. Moles maybe found anywhere; Mole Watch live will need to know what is special about your location, is it a school field, farm land, open countryside or a small garden? Where it is and what purpose is it used for. If farm land is it subject to the toils of agriculture, a field for horses a garden for pleasure even your school field where you play?
Having sourced and obtained permission to enter an area thought to contain your mole make a scale drawing of the whole area, mark on boundary fences and any features including trees, water courses/ponds ditch lines even flower beds and vegetable patches as they all will be an important piece of information. You may use maps or even computer-generated photographs for this but you will need to also have an overall measurement of the whole area and compass points. If possible, include any adjoining locations as your mole will have entered from the perimeter and may even be continuing to access these areas.
It is also important to define any changes in levels or contours of the land as this information will determine water table levels and moisture content of the soil. Mark on your location map every molehill and number them, be sure to include every single one as you will need to be able to identify new ones and any changes made by the mole from its working the soil. To help with this a clear plastic film with a grid marked on it could be used, overhead projection gels are ideal but anything will be determined on the size of your map. Marking the molehills on a clear film with coloured permanent ink markers assists in accessing the changes as the mole creates more evidence to its workings and subsequent clear sheets could be used for each day/week or month which builds a storyline of activity. Measure the area that the mole hills cover within the overall area and indicate this on your maps. This will provide you with further data for later comparison as the mole may extend or create new areas.
It is important to understand what the mole is doing beneath your feet and without initially disturbing the mole so everything must be completed quietly and carefully. It is not uncommon to see the molehills moving when the mole is working.Most people’s first perception to the presence of a mole is the unwanted pile of soil [the mole hill] that has appeared almost by magic on the lawn or in the field, but this pile of dirt is an important source of information.
The mole’s deposited waste informs us of vital information that will enable you to understand what the mole is doing as it goes about its daily life. The colour or type of soil in the mole hills may change as the mole constructs tunnels of varying depths so keeping a record of mole hills may not be as strange as it may sound and photographic evidence will help to compare changes.
The soil horizons or layers will be different at determined depths to an area of land and this information is also required to fully understand any possible strain being placed upon that mole in that location. This information may be obtained by digging a shaft or pit away from the direct influence to the resident mole and recording the horizons and their depths to the location. By using the information from your shaft or pit you will have acomparison chart to ascertain the levels that the soil content in the mole hills has been taken from and also the depth.
Next it is important to measure each and every mole hill and record the data and the date the information was acquired. This information will build up a data base of workings that the mole has made over the period of time of the recordings. This information and date when compared with other information obtained will build further storylines to the life cycle of the mole. You will be surprised at the amount of soil that a small mole may dig in a period of time and this will be evident from your findings.
To measure the mole hill as accurately as you can is important and a simple method is to make a mole hill measuring frame. It consists of three straight rulers and as surprising as it may sound but the longest rulers you can find, as mole hills can reach quite a considerable size, both in width and in height.
They need to be in the shape of the letter H. Wooden rulers are best as they require a slot cut in the middle and along their length which a wing nut and bolt can be inserted through to tighten and hold the third as a cross member to form the letter H. For better accuracy a small spirit level fitted on the cross member will provide a better measurement. These rulers can be made from some strips of wood, if you cannot cut the slots then clamp the cross member with bulldog clips or small clamps. The H shape can be placed over the mole hill and the height and diameter can be recorded; the spirit level ensures the accurate height is obtained, lower the cross member until it rest lightly on the top of the mole hill at the highest point and record the height. The base recording of the location of mole hills along with the size of each individual mound will be the base that you will need to refer to as the different changes to the location are made by the mole. Once this information has been obtained it is required to be recorded on a chart along with the date each and every measurement is made.
A simple chart may consist of
Mole hill number
Height of mole hill
Change in height
Diameter of mole hill
Change in diameter
Content change = changes in soil content i.e. sand
New mole hill/s
From the evidence of molehills, we will have established that a mole is or has been in attendance at your base location and the presence of fresh soil deposited upon a mole hill or the addition of further mole hills will confirm the mole is still continuing to work the area. Actually the pattern of mole hills above ground has little or no relation to what is actually going on beneath the ground they are the mole depositing its waste at any convenient spot. Below the level of the soil the mole is constructing a complex network of tunnels that is the kingdom of the mole but it is one that with the gathered information of what is happening above the ground combined with some knowledge of how the mole lives can be united to understand this intricate intense world more closely. Staying alive to a mole is a mammoth task! There is the need to fulfil the daily requirement of almost two thirds of its own body weight in food. Being an Eulipotyphla, the main diet will be the bugs and grubs found lurking in the soil and as many will know worms are high on the list of preferred foods. The mole creates tunnels in which to move around as it provides a safe environment for one so adapted to the darkness, but the tunnels are also where this vital food is located. The creation of feeding grounds is not taken lightly as the mole will consume vast amounts of energy to dig to find the food. It must be worth the effort - moles do not dig for fun! Every time a mole constructs a new tunnel it will be for a reason, to migrate to an area for a relevant reason, to respond to the presence of food or disturbance either from physical or weather conditions . The area you may have marked as a base location may not be the full picture as the mole may in fact only be at the location for a source of food. It does not really matter if the mole is not resident at the location as the information will still disclose a huge proportion of the life of a mole and the most important part – that of its nutritional requirements. The levels that the tunnels are created will be dependent upon the levels and type of soil that the food is found, and moles will find the best and easiest places to dig. They will know the ideal locations to create main runs which are used to travel around and where they will not be constantly disturbed by weight or influences from above ground. There certainly is a lot to understand about the tunnels of moles and we will explain this to you and you will be able, from above ground locate them and decipher the different tunnels. It is even possible with some additional equipment to explore these more closely opening up a world that many have never seen. It is not recommended that you disturb the tunnels at your base location but in order to understand what an amazing world your mole has constructed it is helpful to identify with the different tunnels to reveal the domain that is below. Locating the tunnels must be carried out with the minimum of disturbance or damage and to complete this you will need a simple probe, a steel bar with a handle is fine but not too thick - a maximum of 10 mm diameter as anything larger will damage the moles tunnel roof and alert the mole to your presence. It is important never to damage the moles environment.
The probe is pushed very slowly down into the ground where you believe a tunnel to be until a sudden give is felt, this sudden give is the point the probe slips into the tunnel roof. Pinch the probe at the ground level and retract it to discover the depth the tunnel has been constructed. This information also needs to be recorded; to assist you may also mark units of measurement on the probe.
The depth of the feeding tunnels will be dictated by the level where the food is present and a clue to what the mole is feeding on will be gained from the type of soil, the season and weather.
The use of the probe may take a little practice but will become easier to use with time and practice. - A word of advice -do not practice on the base location as it will cause unnecessary disturbance. If possible, try and find another area that has mole hills to hone your skill at locating the mole tunnels. It will possible if you can use another location to mark the tunnel beneath the ground, this will show you the network of tunnels under the surface and you will see that they do not just travel between or from one molehill to another. You could follow a tunnels journey marking it as you progress but remember do not do this at your base location.
Where your base location is situated will dictate individually on the presence of the mole, soil types are vitally important to understand as they are crucial to the survival of the mole. The earth is made up of different layers or horizons and dependent upon where you are your soil layers be different to those found elsewhere in the country. These changes around the UK make the Mole Watch Live even more exciting as the information will explain how moles adapt nationally. Remember it is not recommended that you carry this out anywhere close to your base location but if you have dug a shaft down to reveal the different horizons at your location, then record this either with a diagram or photograph. Like the layers seen on archaeological digs the layers will be visible and the thickness which is important to record as it will be evident in the content of mole hills and the levels that the mole is working which combined with the probe depths will create a picture of the contours also of the areas without further hard digging. A basic description of Soil horizons is that they consist of an organic layer with two layers beneath called the top and sub soil. These three upper layers are where the mole will find most of its food; the thickness of these layers will determine the depth the mole will create any feeding tunnels. Shallow thickness in these layers will force the mole to broaden or widen the area of tunnels as obviously it will not be either required to or able to tunnel down into the final three layers which will be the clay, broken bedrock or solid rock that is the planet earth. An example would be on higher grounds such hill areas where the fertile soils are often a thin covering over substrates such as chalk. The moles are forced to create a wide area of damage which many often perceive to be more moles then are actually present. So when studying your base location consider very carefully what makes up the composition in your area.
Understanding the information so far
Studying the base location information, you will soon discover that mole hills bare very little resemblance to what is actually going on below ground, by this we mean that the tunnels are not like a children's dot to dot puzzle. Do not expect the tunnels to link to each molehill in turn as they are governed by the demands placed upon the mole, by the soil and any obstructions etc. Possibly a quick visual example of this would be the short distance some mole hills may be apart from each other in comparison to their size. Immediately disclosing from the vast amount of soil deposited in the mole hills that it would be impossible for it to have come from the distance between them. It is not uncommon for mole hills to link together especially when the mole is moving into new areas so again by a careful examination and recording all of activity you will disclose exactly what the mole is doing. From your diagram of the area with all the mole hills clearly marked you should be able to decipher the different areas. Groups of mole hills are a good indication to where the mole has created an area for feeding and from your table of soil horizons to compare the soil content of the mounds you will have a clear indication of the reasons to why the mole has concentrated the energy there. Moles only retain approximately 3 grams of body fat which they will use to maintain body warmth as they are an endoderm or warm-blooded animal. Their metabolism therefore requires a huge intake of food so again you can understand why the moles conserve energy only consuming important calories when they are required. Again, we remind you that moles do not dig just for fun!
Manufacturing tunnels is no easy task even for an animal like the mole that is perfectly designed for the whole process. As well as requiring vast energy and strength to construct each tunnel with each dimension precisely shaped to the size required. With your probe it is not accurately possible to determine the size of the resident mole, nor is it predictable from the amount of soil deposited in mole hills as the mole has enormous strength and can transform mole hills into mountains, but the tunnel is proportional to the size of the mole. The reason for this is that the mole will create the tunnel as its body allows. In the skeleton of the mole, the scapula bones which form the back of the shoulder allow for a freedom of movement to dig and construct a tunnel proportional to the size of the moles body. The mole places one of its broad front paws firmly to brace itself and then rips at the soil with the other. The reach is limited but this is important as the tail of the mole when raised and held vertical is required to maintain contact with the tunnel roof. The diameter of its tunnel is constant to the height it can reach with the tail, as the mole requires contact with the roof as it absorbs information of its environment from stiff hairs located on the tip of its tail called vibrissae. This constant rubbing is visible in the main runs that mole use to travel along by the clean polished line they generate with this brushing effect.
In the runs rarely used or in the feeding tunnels where the mole is not moving at any positive pace the tail will not leave this secret track for any mole sleuth to follow. So your tunnel diameter will be the size directly proportional to the reach of the mole as limited by the skeleton and measured constantly by the length of the tail when held vertical.