Country diary: a landscape reshaped by molehills | Environment

The last snow lasted a few days but felt like weeks. It vanished in an instant: one spring-like afternoon it felt as if a conjurer had whipped away the tablecloth leaving everything standing.

What had changed, and radically so, was the table. It was as if the ground under the snow had been through a strange transformation and some charm had been working invisibly, resurfacing the countryside. Sheep stared with beatific expressions at earthworks that had appeared around them. In the snow and bitter wind, the sheep had been in a trance and, woken by the vernal equinox, beheld the results of what Jack Kerouac described in The Scripture of the Golden Eternity as “Roaring dreams take place in a perfect still mind.” However, the roaring dreams were not those of sheep but belonged to underground minds of the workers John Clare called mouldiwarps, or “The Mole”, as a gamekeeper of my acquaintance would whisper murderously.

Moles had been active all winter, digging deeper to get at worms and chucking excavated earth out from galleries and chambers on to the surface into tidy molehills. One mole weighing 100g can shift 6kg of soil in 20 minutes. It can gobble 36kg of earthworms a year. Its nose creates the olfactory equivalent of radar to image its subterranean world, much more accurately than its pinhead eyes or invisible ears can.

All this unlicensed mining and despoliation will send farmers, greenkeepers and gardeners mad. My local newspaper recently published a photograph of two proud molecatchers with a heap of 86 dead moles they had trapped in one field in one night. In early spring, the aggressively sociopathic moles meet up for the breeding season, and if they survive the inevitable onslaught little ones will be born in grass-thatched rooms below.

Up above, the molehills are inspected darkly by rooks and jackdaws for anything the moles missed; the strutting colour-chart of a cock pheasant joins in and a March hare, too cool to be mad, vanishes into a field where the roaring dreams of the radical diggers had been remapping the field, tunnelling, drilling, burrowing, making mountains.