John Noblett, Lancashire mole catcher

PUBLISHED: 13:56 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:34 20 February 2013

John sets a trap

John sets a trap

John Noblett is a nemesis for Lancashire's mole population but, as Roger Borrell discovered, he is also a passionate about animal welfare

The merest mention of the Wind in the Willows brings an exasperated expression to John Nobletts normally good-humoured face. That book has a lot to answer for, he sighs.

Not the normal reaction to one of our best-loved childrens stories, but then John is a molecatcher and he knows many people associate them with Kenneth Grahames mild-mannered and much-loved character.

The reality is that moles are wonderfully furry little chaps but also pretty aggressive - ask any worm. When the mood takes them, they will fight to the death, tearing lumps from one another. More importantly for those of us who live above ground, they can be a major pest.

The average Englishman has a long fuse, but threaten his pristine sward and he will change from Dr Jekyll into the gardening equivalent of Mr Hyde.

Thats where John comes in. From his home in the Fylde village of Warton he plots their downfall with a military precision which comes with a lifetime spent in pursuit of moles.

As a boy growing up on the family farm at Chorley, John earned pocket money trapping them. But adulthood saw him develop a career in the hotel and catering industry, meeting his wife Jennifer when they worked at the Clifton Arms in Lytham.

The traditional country trade of molecatching all but died out with the use of strychnine as a poison. It was extremely efficient but it also killed many other things and, thankfully, it was banned in 2006.

As a result there was a huge rise in the mole population, not helped by milder winters, wetter summers and Foot and Mouth Disease, which kept the few surviving molecatchers away. Moles even reached the middle of Liverpool.

I formed Lancashire Mole Control last year when I realised I had enough contacts and the necessary expertise to turn it into a full-time job, says 50-year-old John.

You might expect someone involved in animal extermination to have a fairly tough shell. But father-of-two John is the president of the Guild of British Molecatchers and he speaks passionately about animal welfare and the need to use standardised spring traps which dispatch the animals quickly and with a minimum of pain.

Members of the guild must follow a strict code of practice and must abide by the terms of the Animal Welfare Act.

Moles arent classed as vermin, he says. They are a nuisance or a pest but we are not looking to eradicate them.

There have been occasions when Ive told gardeners that they have a mole but to leave it as its not doing any damage. Most people have them without knowing it.

Much of Johns work comes from farmers. A heavy infestation of moles can have a severe impact on grazing land and it also reduces the nutritional value of haylage and silage. There is the added problem that moles bring to the surface naturally-occurring bacteria, which can sometimes be fatal in horses.

More unusually, Johns work can make life safer for the regions air travellers. He deals with the moles living by runways. The disturbed soil attracts birds looking for worms and they can flock as planes are taking off with potentially dire consequences.

The remainder of his work involves sports fields, golf courses, parks and play areas. In the course of a year, his traps kill between 5,000 and 6,000 moles.

You can get up to ten moles in an acre of land and just recently John removed 26 from just three acres. To survive, moles need to eat three quarters of their body weight in worms and grubs and that means the population spreads out as they hunt for food - as anyone whos had a lawn laid near agricultural land will testify.

People can react with a mixture of bemusement and fascination when John tells people what he does for a living. But Ive never experienced an adverse reaction from people. If they are prepared to listen to the reasons why I do it they understand.

Has a wily mole ever defeated him? No, but there have been moles which have taken some catching, mainly because gardeners have had a go themselves and the moles have become extremely cautious.

Done properly, its a very specialised job and skills are needed to understand the life-cycle and the life-style of the animals. The more you know the more you will catch, plus you need to be conscious of how the weather effects their behaviour.

Next year the guild, which raises standards and makes donations to the Make a Wish Foundation, plans to bestow the title Master Molecatcher on those at the very top of the trade. Few would bet against John picking up this Oscar of the molecatching fraternity.

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