Country & garden: Nature Notes

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MOST GARDENERS must wish that moles would hibernate in winter. Yet they do no such thing, but carry on as usual, throwing up heaps on the lawn.

With five toes on each front foot, and broad claws, they are powerful excavators, and dig themselves elaborate tunnel systems. Needing to eat their own weight in food every day, they live on earthworms and insect larvae that fall into their runs. Although nearly blind - able only to distinguish between light and dark - they have an acute sense of smell, and are sensitive to vibration, so that they cease digging if they hear footsteps approaching.

In spite of their rotundity, they are capable of no mean acceleration when threatened underground, or surprised in the open. What makes them distasteful to predators is the strength of their scent; foxes often kill them with a single nip, but then leave the bodies lying uneaten on the ground.

Moleskin waistcoats used to be fashionable in country districts. Full- time catchers would travel round their beat on foot, skinning victims on the move as they walked from one set of traps to the next, and selling the pelts at sixpence apiece.

Hence the creature's nickname - the gentleman in black velvet - which was coined by the Jacobites after William of Orange's horse stumbled over a molehill and it killed him.