Country Diary: Subterranean streamlined earth mover

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Bleak winter’s in the wood, The birds have flown,

Leaving the naked trees, Shivering alone...

By Eileen Mathias

What amazing sunsets we’ve admired, with the naked boughs of trees silhouetted against the blazing skies.

As Christmas approaches, nurseries flaunt magnificent displays of adornments for Christmas trees. Gay and gaudy they may be, but nature’s natural gifts of cones from fir and pine trees, seed heads, and spiny teasels are amazing! A white, painted branch with glitter-sprayed pendants is simple and effective, along with traditional holly and mistletoe.

A recent highlight, was a kind invitation from Mr John Armistead. Living in a rural location on the outskirts of Scarborough, he suggested we may like to view his walnut tree.

The huge tree of great stature and form dominated John’s wondrous garden. It is believed to be over 100 years old, and is still producing crops of walnuts! Admittedly they were quite small, but we prized the couple John had saved for us. Squirrels relish them, and are frequently seen climbing the walnut tree and burying nuts in the garden. We were shown holes in the lawn where squirrels had been busy! As we spoke, a blackbird was tucking into windfall apples on the grass.

Lawns are often considered spoilt by worm casts, but this is a sign of healthy soil. Any excessive deposits of soil should be swept across the lawn. Please don’t attempt to kill earthworms.

Every creature plays a vital part in nature’s food chain, and we should not interfere. Earthworms mix the layers of soil as they burrow. Their tunnels help to drain the land, and aerate the soil. Leaves plugging their holes in winter, gradually decay.

This natural process adds rich humus to the soil.

A natural predator of worms, apart from many species of bird, are moles. This year, we’ve observed an overwhelming number of molehills in fields and alongside grass verges.

These eruptions of soil resemble miniature volcanoes excavated by the little mole miners. Moles are certainly well adapted for subterranean life! Their bodies are cylindrical and streamlined for easy passage through soil.

Their handsome, black coat of velvet is smooth, and may be brushed in any direction. The snout is pointed, and sensitive to detecting any invertebrates worth eating – especially worms! Any they wish to save are bitten along the back to paralyse their prey and store them for later use.

Eyes are reduced to minute, pin-head size, as they’re of little value underground. Their front feet are broad and shovel-like.

Moles only live in good, well-drained soil. They avoid sandy, stony ground and acidic soil. Please don’t destroy these creatures. Just remove mole hills and use as an excellent potting compost, or return soil spilling onto lawns to the borders.

Happy Christmas everyone!