Don't mess with the little fellers in black

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The Independent Online

Calling all children! Are you ready for another nature lesson?

Good! Because we're going out again today with Uncle Geoffrey and his niece and nephew, Susan and Robert, in a walk through the frosty English landscape.

Is anything happening there? Let's find out!

"That's interesting," said Uncle Geoffrey. "I was out in this field last week and there were no molehills then. Today they are all over the place. Now, what does that tell us?"

"It tells us that heavy industry is on the move again," said Robert.

"Heavy industry?" said Uncle Geoffrey.

"In animal terms, yes," said Robert. "You have often told us that molehills are merely the earth thrown up by moles digging food tunnels."

"And that they leave the tunnels for grubs and bugs to fall into," said Susan.

"And that they return regularly to gobble up all the insects which have collected."

"But that if the weather changes, they have to dig new tunnels, because when it freezes they have to dig deeper to find soft earth, and when it gets warmer, they have to dig nearer the surface ..."

"So new molehills mean that the weather has recently undergone a drastic change."

"I have told you all this before?" said Uncle Geoffrey.

"Often," said Susan.

"Repeatedly," said Robert.

Uncle Geoffrey mused for a moment. Then he spoke again.

"How do you mean about heavy industry, Robert?"

"It's all a question of relativity, Uncle. To us, a molehill is a little pile of earth. To a mole, it's a huge tip of industrial waste."

"In human terms," continued Susan, "moles are wantonly digging up the landscape in a series of open-cast mines, and leaving behind a series of slag heaps which they have made no attempt to blend in with the landscape. Moles are the Rio Tinto Zinc of the mammal world."

"The holes left by moles are a health and safety hazard," said Susan. "Any large animal that steps in a mole hole is dicing with its life."

"Remember that it was a mole that killed King William III, when his horse stumbled on a molehill and threw him, and that moles thus became unexpectedly popular with Jacobites everywhere."

"So it's about time that moles cleaned up their act," said Robert. "They are regicides, industrial polluters, scarrers of the landscape and mass killers."

"Mass killers?"

"Of the humble worm," said Robert.

"The worm that patiently burrows underground and converts the earth into cultivable soil by passing it through its body," said Susan.

"Yes, but even if there is some truth in what you say, one cannot help feeling sorry for the poor mole," said Uncle Geoffrey. "This tiny, blind, animal ..."

"You must not invoke political correctness on behalf of the mole," said Robert. "Its sight is extremely poor, certainly, but then it does not need to see very much. It lives mostly in the dark, where the gift of sight would be about as useful as an ability to swim."

"Which in fact might be rather useful to them, as the main threat to a mole comes not from predators or disease or starvation but from flooding."

"This is all very impressive knowledge," said Uncle Geoffrey. "Where did you get it all from?"

"From you, dear Uncle Geoffrey," said Robert. "You told us all this, and we have remembered it, while you have forgotten it."

"This is how knowledge is passed on," said Susan. "Transmitted from the older to the younger, before the older generation loses its marbles and becomes surplus to requirements."