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Mounds of earth

Mole. Photo Steve BottomMole. Photo Steve Bottom

By Dyane Silvester

You know that sinking feeling when you look out of the window one morning and see that some mole has been at work under your lawn?

Well before you rush out with the shovel to see him off, stop for a moment and consider whether he is actually doing you a favour.

There are many things that create lumps and bumps on the soil surface (be it your garden, the beach or the fields and fells) but the most likely here in Cumbria are moles, ants and earthworms. Their casts might be unsightly on your lawn but actually, ants and worms provide an essential aeration of the soil, and breakdown of organic matter – without which your lawn would probably not be growing in the first place! If you're not worried about the lawn but are on the beach instead then those little mounds that look like earthworm casts are more likely to be down to sandworms (lugworms), which spend pretty much their entire life in a U-shaped partially mucous-lined burrow in the sand. Like earthworms, they feed on decaying organic matter, and also ingest sand, which forms the distinctive piles on the beach. They lay their eggs into a passing tide where they are fertilised and the young grow in a long frog-spawn-like mass until they are old enough of make burrows of their own.

Although you will probably be familiar with ant hills in the woods; the ones formed from little twigs and leaves and pine needles, a lot of anthills are not really recognisable as such at first sight. Walk over Cumbria Wildlife Trust's nature reserves on Whitbarrow, near Kendal, and you could find yourself stomping over grassland strewn with loose wobbly lumps covered with grass, thyme and bedstraw. If you stop and poke a stick into one of them you'll soon have a handful of ants.

Moles have their place – even if you don't think it should be under your lawn – in aerating the ground and eating up pests (especially beetle larvae and other grubs which might otherwise chew the roots of your flowers or vegetables); in the natural world, you can't have it all ways! Most creatures that ingest soil enhance its fertility, if only by increasing the oxygen content and allowing bacteria to do their job more effectively.

I know, this is all very well, but you'd still rather they stayed out of your garden. Well talk to a dozen gardeners and they'll all have their own remedy. I think I favour lifting the molehill soil carefully and using it for growing my seedlings in.  

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