(Photograph by Simon Upton)
At the age of nine, Jeff Nicholls would make traps out of bent hazel and pieces of string, and sit for hours in the fields round Bracknell, Berkshire, waiting for moles. 'I'd take a comic and a bottle of pop, and spend all Saturday or Sunday in people's back gardens. I used to get four shillings for every mole.'
He left school to become a plumber's apprentice, and then tried a succession of jobs, until one season, when the Bracknell rugby pitch was plagued by molehills, Mr Nicholls offered to help. 'I realised, then, that there was a market for mole catching. I've done it full time now for about 16 years.'
The metal traps he uses are designed to kill the mole instantly when it hunts in its tunnels for worms. 'You've got to think like the mole. If the weather is turning cold, worms will feel the barometric pressure change, and go down below the frost line. You'll find the moles in their lower runs.'
Mr Nicholls has a collection of centuries-old mole catching equipment and believes he is one of the last professional mole catchers in the country.
Jeff Nicholls appeared on Radio 2's 'Jeremy Vine Show', which has an audience of over thirteen million, on Friday 10 December 2004, talking about his new book on molecatching.
Jeff Nicholls appeared on 'Tales From The Country', produced by Kingfisher Television, on ITV1 on Thursday 23 February 2006. This is a summary of the item from the Kingfisher Television website:
Jeff Nicholls is a Berkshire based molecatcher, who uses traditional methods to capture his quarry. We visited Ascot Golf Course to watch him in action.
In the UK we have the 'European Mole', which can burrow up to 20 metres of freshly dug tunnel a day – and every day they will have to eat nearly their 80 gram body weight in earthworms to keep on the move.
In the 1700s a molecatcher had a fine life. They would travel from country estate to estate and given free board and lodgings whilst they practised their craft. Not only would they be paid per mole produced from the ground, they could sell the valuable moleskin on again for further profit.
But the introduction of the poison strychnine took the mystery away from the molecatcher's art. Now anyone with a jar of poisoned worms could kill moles.
But in September 2006, the use of strychnine to control moles will be banned. Jeff's skills, long forgotten by most, are now much in demand.
Jeff covers areas such as golf courses, gardens and racehorse gallops, where a rogue molehill can prove very damaging indeed.
On Sunday 12 March 2006 molecatcher Jeff Nicholls and his sidekick Joe visited Heacham, Norfolk at the request of Canon Patrick Foreman to resolve an increasing mole damage problem in the churchyard of St. Mary the Virgin.
We will shortly be moving to a new property that is situated next to a field. It has a smallish, mainly lawned garden, currently full of molehills. What is the best way to deal with this?
Mrs. A. Slee, Dawlish
My best advice is to buy a copy of Molecatcher: A Guide to Traditional Molecatching Techniques by Jeff Nicholls (Matador, 2004). It will tell you all you need to know about moles and how to deal with them in the best and most humane ways - even how to use a trap successfully (many people try and most fail). Long may it stay in print.
Jeff Nicholls was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Programme 'Farming Today' on Monday 26 February 2007 and on Monday 7 May 2007.
On Wednesday 10 October 2007 Jeff Nicholls appeared on the BBC3 television programme 'Help Me Anthea - I'm Infested', presented by Anthea Turner. This is part of the summary of the programme from the BBC website:
The Moore family from Lincolnshire left the city for the country good life only to be driven mad by their home being overrun by mice and their garden ruined by moles. At first Anthea is sympathetic - until she realises that Mark Moore's lack of DIY skills has led to holes all over the house acting as a gateway for the mice.