Mole-catcher Jeff Nicholls speaks to Tessa Waugh about catching the ‘mysterious’ and ‘tenacious’ little mole. Photographs by Richard Cannon.

Jeff Nicholls started catching moles when he was a boy and has made a lifelong career of this time-honoured skill. ‘I was going to be a plumber, but I liked being outside too much,’ he explains, adding that it sometimes surprises people that he’s spent so much of his life campaigning for the welfare of moles. ‘Just because you’re trying to take an animal’s life, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about it – you should give it respect.’

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Mole Catcher Jeff Nicholls out and about catching moles. Richard Cannon/©Country Life Picture Library

Mr Nicholls laments the fact that the old ways of mole control have been superseded by what he sees as less sophisticated methods. ‘In the past, the mole-catcher walked the country setting devices, not traps like they use today. They had snares made from horsehair string powered by a simple willow stick and would sit and wait for the stick to move. Once they knew the mole was restrained, they would dispatch it instantly.’

This countryman has never tired of pursuing the animal he describes as ‘mysterious’ and ‘tenacious’. ‘A mole-catcher will never be a rich man,’ he notes, ‘but he will be rich in the knowledge that the mole brings you. When I see a molehill, it isn’t just a pile of earth, it’s a key to a strange little world.’

Jeff Nicholls’s latest book, ‘Catching Moles: The History and Practice’, is available from www.crowood.com