Dai Mole: Fox Trapper

2011_05_04_9999_83foxesFollowing my recent ‘Kill They Oounts’ post, and in answer to questions regarding Ted’s fox catching prowess:

Ted trapped foxes and many other animals, but I think he believed a live fox to be of greater value than a dead one. Ted made a living exploiting his countryside skills. However, to survive he found it necessary to seed and cultivate his local hunting grounds.

Ted's Hunting Gounds

Ted’s hunting grounds

Ted asked me to give him a hand during the winter of 1970. I remember the weather being very cold, with deep snow on the ground. I arrived at the Crown, Pantygelli, early on a Sunday morning, just as dawn was breaking. Ted waited in an old canvas roofed Land Rover 80 fitted with snow chains fitted.

Ted's Land Rover 80

Land Rover 80 like Ted’s

Leaving the Crown, Ted drove seventy metres up the Old Hereford Road before turning left to slip-slide his way along a narrow country lane towards Forest Coal Pit. The weather conditions were atrocious. In my humble opinion, the 65-year-old Ted was neither a cautious nor competent driver in snow. In fact, I believed his grip on sanity to be tenuous at best, and I worried about his lack of motor insurance. Our outward journey was cold, windy and generally unpleasant; if the Landi had a heater, it was next to useless. On a number of occasions I jumped out to clear snow and ice from the wheel arches and from the road infront of us, with an inadequate army surplus folding shovel. After passing through Forest Coal Pit, I remember little; I think I had my head buried deep in my Dennison Smock. We eventually arrived at a house on the side of a hill. I was wet, cold, and generally uncomfortable. Snow was falling heavily.

Ted informed me, as we walked through a field gate, that we were going to trap a fox. ” “We’m agwain’ faxin’!” he said “They faxes be comin’ down thar hill atekin thar chooks!” I pulled a woven hazel basket trap from the Landi and slung it over my shoulder. Ted had his lidded wicker basket slung across his shoulders, and carried the shovel and a witches broom.

We soon arrived at a large chicken coup. Dai Mole quickly set about his work with the enthusiastic and measured efficiency of someone who knows exactly what they are doing.

The woven hazel basket trap was around 5 foot long by 2 foot square. One end was woven closed and the other had a weighted swing-down door attached to its roof. Ted quickly cleared snow from under a bush at the rear of the chicken coupe. Ted removed a chicken carcass from his basket and hung it from the roof, at the far end of the trap, on baler twine. He ran the baler twine from the chicken carcass, up through the roof and a metal plate with 1/4″ holed drilled through it, and tied a small metal ring to the loose end. Next, Ted lifted the trap door to around 30 degrees above the horizontal and connected it with wire to the roof mounted trigger plate. With the bait and door hooked up to the trigger, Dai Mole poked a thin metal rod through the roof and pushed the chicken carcass downwards. The trigger operated and the weighted trapdoor swung silently around its hinges and snapped shut with a satisfyingly solid thump.

“Now to flummox wily fax,” said Dai Mole with a smile. “They faxes ain’t a foolin’ ol’ Ted,” he muttered. Ted reset the trap and push it under the bush with the raised trapdoor clear of any branches. He mooched off and collected a sack full of leaf mould from under a  nearby bush and spread it over the floor of the trap, rubbing it as far as he could reach on its inner surfaces. He brushed the snow around the area with his witches broom. “Afore long here be covered with fresh snow,” he whispered. We collected the equipment and walked back to the Landi, with Ted brushing away our footprints as we went.

The long and short of this story is that the coup owner checked the trap daily through binoculars. He had been warned not to approach the trap unless it had been sprung. Three days later, Ted released a trapped fox four miles away on the slopes of the Big Skirrid – or Holy Mountain as it’s also known, because this was where the Devil landed after he was thrown from heaven. I have no doubt that Ted released the fox close to another chicken coup whose owner he knew.

I have read and been told many times that cage traps are not an effective way of catching foxes. Well, they are it you know what you are doing. It’s not much good setting-up a wire mesh trap freshly purchased from Amazon: a fox won’t go anywhere near it. However, if you leave it set-up in the foxes territory for a few weeks, it will weather and the fox will eventually get used to it. This is the time to bait the trap.  Ted didn’t have such problems, for he was a true expert in his own field.

Ted, aka Dai Mole, might no longer be with us, but he is not forgotten.

The Crown at Pantygelli

The Crown at Pantygelli today

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Where Are You Mal?

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Five years ago I noticed a larger that average mallard living on Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve. It’s not easy to tell one mallard from another, I know, but there are times when one individual stands head and shoulders above the rest. Mal, a loner, is now missing; I’ve not seen him for six weeks or more. I was able to identify Mal because he was steadfast: the big mallard that didn’t fly away on my approach.

One day, I stood watching this duck sunning itself on a tree stump at the edge of North Pond. A fox hidden in the reeds attacked and knocked Mal from his perch. Unperturbed, this courageous mallard immediately and viciously set-about pecking the living daylights out of the stunned red dog until it gave up and ran away.

I rarely get attached to individual animals, but the spirit of this duck impressed me. If a marsh foxes has eaten Mal, I feel natural selection might have lost out in this instance. I hope Mal managed to pass on his genes.

Mallards can live well into their 20s.

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Mal on his favourite perch

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First Bloom Of The Year In Hoo Wood

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Lesser Periwinkle photographed in Hoo Wood his afternoon

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Join The Fight Against Pollution Of Our Waterways and Oceans. 

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Plastic Rubbish And Rubbish Rafts Along The Middle And North Sections Of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve

Leaving Linda and Mike Averill collecting and bagging plastic bottles on the South Riverside Pasture yesterday afternoon, I went off to inspect the River Stour flowing through the middle and north marshes.

The high levels of fast flowing water has scoured the marsh section of the River Stour cleaner than I can remember seeing it in a long while, particularly through north and mid marshes.

It seems that Nature has taken things into her own hands again and flushed most the various kinds of polluting rubbish resting in the River Stour into the River Severn, to become someone else’s problem. It never just someone else’s problem! We all have to pay the price one way or another. Those that throw rubbish into our waterways must think otherwise; it’s likely such people don’t think at all.

Linda and Mike Averill collecting and bagging plastic rubbish from the south marsh riverbank.

A fridge hung-up in a tree on the east bank of the River Stour at North Pond.

A fridge-freezer has been hung-up in the trees growing on the riverbank here, but it was carried by the River Stour to the River Severn. I guess it’s on its way to South America now. The space the fridge-freezer left in the River Stour has now been filled with a fridge. Amazing!

The ‘S’ bend in the River Stour at North Pond.

The ‘S’ bend in the river at North Pond was completely blocked by the largest of the marsh rubbish rafts, and it has been there for a few years. The flood completely scrubbed the river here clean, and an inflatable has been thoughtfully left for my exclusive use.

Flooding in the North Riverside Pasture.

The North Riverside pasture is covered with pooled water, so I guess the recent flood can be designated a ‘great flood’ after all.

A scrubbed River Stour downstream of Falling Sands Lock.

There was a rubbish raft here too, but the river banks have been scrubbed clean.

The confluence of Hoo Brook and River Stour. Most of the mud, logs and general mess, has been carried away to the River Severn by the flood waters.

The Great Crested Newt pond will be raked out in January to help reduce its high nutrient level.

There’s plenty of accumulated water for the cattle to drink in Hoo Brook Pasture, when they return from their holidays at the end of January 2018.

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The River Stour Big Flood Of 27th December 2017

The River Stour was in big flood yesterday, as opposed to being in great flood. In a big flood, River Stour waters trickle over its bank onto the marsh. In a great flood, the waters gush over the riverbanks and turn much of Wilden Marsh Nature Reserve into a series of lakes. Marsh flooding is not a problem because it’s a natural floodplain and flooding is a natural event. What’s really nasty, and not at all welcome, is the large amounts of plastic and metal rubbish washing onto the marsh and out to sea.

A huge amount of plastic and metal rubbish has now found its way into the River Severn and is well on its way to the oceans, where it will circle the earth many times and threaten the health and lives of fish that the world fishing industry has not yet managed catch in its huge nets. Whether the various types of River Stour rubbish stays trapped in the river or is washed out to sea, it’s very bad news indeed. The big question is: Do we want to pay for it to be collected and disposed of in an environmentally friendly way? Maybe we would like people and organisations producing the rubbish to pay for its proper disposal! Either way, every one of us will end-up footing the bill.

Transition Stourbridge are doing their bit to clean up the River Stour.

Wyre Forest Council and the Environment Agency have had a go at clearing the rubbish from the Kidderminster section of the River Stour.

There is also THE RIVER STOUR CLEAR WATER PROJECT Facebook page.

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Kill They Oounts!

moley

A recent Worcestershire Wildlife Trust tweet about the origin of the word ‘heunt’, an old Worcestershire name for mole, pronounced ‘oounts’ or ‘unts’ in Monmouthshire, triggered a memory from my distant past. Way back in the late 1960s, I sat enjoying a lunchtime pint of Watney’s Red Barrel in the Crown bar with a new friend. The Crown is nestled alongside the narrow and winding Old Hereford Road at Pantygelli, between Abergavenny and Lantillio Pertholy, on the north-eastern edge of the 519 square mile Brecon Beacons National Park, and a mile and a half from my then home.

I remember this particular lunchtime excursion very clearly because I was out on a first date and eager to impress. I had finally managed to coax my new friend out on my new Ducati 350cc motorbike; this was her first pillion ride.

DUCATI

Me and my Ducati in the late 60s

As we chatted and picked at our ‘chicken in the basket’ bar meals, a large man in a flat cap, long raincoat and wellies, opened the bar door and shouted: “Dai Mole at so-and-so farm, John!” I had heard this cryptic call on previous visits to the Crown. “Who’s Dai Mole, John,” I asked the barman. I learned that Dai Mole was a mole/rat catcher and long-time local character whose name was Ted, and not Dai. I had seen Ted many times, sitting quietly on his own at a small corner table, smoking his pipe and nursing a single pint of dark for most of an evening.

One day I found Ted on his own in the Crown bar, with his glass almost empty. I sat myself at his table and slid new pint of dark in front of him. “What’s this for,” he asked suspiciously. “For drinking,” I replied with a smile. We talked about mole catching for the length of time it took him to drink his free pint. All of a sudden Ted stood, downed the last mouthful, and walked off through the bar. He stopped at the door, turned to me, and shouted, “10 o’clock here on Sunday!” I had earlier asked if he would take me out on one of his mole catching trips, but he didn’t seem at all keen; on his way to the door, something had changed his mind.

I rode onto the Crown car park at 9.30am, and waited for Ted to arrive. Within minutes a coughing, spluttering, jingling and jangling, whining and wheezing, hand painted, black Austin A30 van crept slowly across the gravel. The jalopy came to a hesitant halt. After a final pop, bang and soft hiss, the engine died – Ted had arrived early. He was a short, skinny man dressed in a threadbare tweed jacket, a well worn flat cap, dark moleskin trousers, and turned-down wellies. I guessed his age at mid-sixties.  A grubby cravat hid his shirt collar and he sported a completely white full beard.

Dark grey oily smoke curled over the rear of his van and met with white steam hissing softly from the engine compartment. A door opened with the creaking squeal of unoiled hinges, to reveal the ghostly figure of Ted, aka Dai Mole, carrying two one-gallon tin cans. Lifting the bonnet, Ted leaned into a cloud of hissing steam to top-up the radiator with water from one can, and the engine oil from the other. I stress here that I’m not exaggerating; the van was a complete mess. Ted didn’t believe in road tax, MOT, or insurance.

mole

“You ready for molein’?” Ted shouted. The passenger door grated against unoiled hinges as I slammed it shut. A hessian sack, filled with spare hessian sacks, squeezed into the metal frame served as my seat cushion. Dai Mole turned the ignition key. A struggling starter motor whirred, grated, and coaxed the coughing and spluttering engine into life. First gear was selected with a worrying crunch. Riding a slipping clutch, we chugged away, ever so slowly, along the Old Hereford Road. The van didn’t have seatbelts. The passenger’s door sprang open at every bump and pothole – baling twin tied to the door handle and around the back of the passenger seat was Ted’s solution to the problem. Ten minutes later we pulled into a muddy farm yard. Ted asked me to wait in the van whilst he had a word with the farmer. An hour passed before Ted’s return. I found out later that he started most mole catching jobs with a full farmhouse fried breakfast, courtesy of the farmer’s wife, and a few pints of cider from the farmer.

Ted put a large wicker basket over his shoulder and we walked through a very mucky farmyard into a field adjoining a sizable rolled lawn next to the farmhouse. The field was peppered with molehills, and a few had began to invade farmer’s lawn. Well trimmed hedges separated the farm fields from the farmhouse.

From his wicker basket, Ted lifted a handful of thin bamboo sticks – each had a white rag tied to one end – and a short metal spiked wooden pole with a two inch diameter knobble at one end. He walked all over the field inspecting molehills, poking his fingers in spoil heaps and rubbing the soil knowledgably between grubby fingers. He took a pinch of soil from another, placed it in the palm of his hand, spat into it, mixed the concoction with a finger, sniffed heavily at it, before finally tasting and spitting out the residue. There was obviously a great deal to be learned from moles’ spoil; I hadn’t the faintest idea what this might be, but I could tell there was important business going down here.

The molehills close to the hedge separating the field from the lawn, were given particularly intense scrutiny and much prodding with the metal spiked stick. At certain places of perceived importance, he pushed flagged bamboo sticks into the ground and muttered “oount runs” and an incantation: ‘Kill they oounts!” More careful inspection and muttering was carried out directly under the hedge. Cautiously, Dai Mole pronounced, ” They oounts be livin’ under thar edge!” As if to confirm his statement, Ted patrolled the hedge once more, stopping now and again to insert the spiked end of his stick into the sod. He did a strange fast stomping dance immediately followed by the very deliberate action of pressing his ear to the knobbed end of his spiked stick. Ted listened intently for the all important underground noises. Every now and again, with an ear still glued to the stick, his face became strained and contorted and, looking skywards, he muttered his incantation: “Aye…kill they oounts!” Finally Ted thought for a few seconds and pronounced with certainty: ” Ooh…ar! They oounts definitely be livin’ under thar edge!”

Dai Mole rummaged once again in his mysterious lidded wicker basket and removed a small, stout ‘T’ handled flat bladed implement, and a small hessian sack containing jangling metallic objects. These he placed carefully on the grass. The sack was opened and a pile of 24 wire implements, similar to that shown below, spilled on the ground in front of him.

Dai MoleTrap

Sprung mole trap

Ted dug a small hole in the sod and carefully rubbed soil over each of his wire traps and set them neatly on the ground in pairs, looped end to looped end. Picking up his flat bladed instrument, he cut a rectangle into the soil, 100mm deep X 75mm wide X 200mm long, around one of the flagged bamboo sticks. Carefully, the flag was removed and the rectangle of sod lifted out and placed nearby, parallel to the mole run. After an expert clean-up, a section of the mole’s tunnel was now clearly visible. Ted slowly, almost reverentially, pushed two primed mole traps into the mole’s tunnel. A bamboo flag pole was pushed through the spring loops. The roof of the mole’s run was repaired with soil, similar to that shown in the diaphragm below. The immediate area around the trap was scrutinised for holes that might let light or air into the mole run. The whole performance was carried out a further eleven time before Ted was satisfied that this part of the job was done. Within two or three day, Ted would return to check if any traps had been sprung.

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Double mole trap

Catching moles was a serious business for Ted; he surrounded the whole process with ceremony. His incantations, mutterings and weird dances suggest that mole catching is a calling requiring practiced mystical skills and hard won knowledge of mole psychology and behavioural patterns. In fact, catching a mole is a straight-forward business, but I’ve no doubt that Ted liked being the local country expert and found a certain degree of pride in the fact that the local community valued him and his services. I know that Ted trapped live moles to secretly transplant at his customer’s farms, close as possible to their houses.

Ted was mostly paid in kind for his services: a breakfast and a few glasses of cider at the start of a job, with further gifts of meat and/or other produce, and perhaps more cider on completion, dependent on how many dead moles he presented to the farmer. I don’t think it was generally known that Ted arrived at a mole catching job with a supply of dead moles, caught elsewhere, just in case the mole haul for that day was not as good as expected. Dai Mole realised the importance of customer satisfaction and made sure he was always able to present at least half a dozen dead moles to an anxious employer. Of course, Ted was not just the local mole and rat catcher, he was also the very keen and cunning local poacher that kept a close eye on the game living on and around the farms he visited.

Moles aren’t all bad. In fact, they’re 99 per cent good. They aerate soil and provide free fertiliser. They eat a lot of grubs, and grubs eat grass roots. Love your moles!

I went out with Ted on many occasions, and he taught me many cool things about the countryside. Each outing ended at the Crown and a few pints – I don’t ever remember him buying. I have not said anything to anyone about Ted, or our exploits, until today – 48 years after the events….

I hope everyone had a good Christmas, and I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

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