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Vole damage in the tunnel

It’s Latin name is microtus agrestis. It’s got grey-brown fur, lighter below, a long body, a rounded snout and enjoys a wide range of food. Sound familiar? This is the Field Vole, a rodent that’s widespread throughout mainland UK. They’ve been around for a long time, too – ever since the last Ice Age, roughly 10,000 years. You won’t see them on some of our islands: the Isle of Man, Shetlands or Ireland – where St Patrick probably chucked them out with the snakes ages ago. But elsewhere they’re common enough – and you can even find them in polytunnels.

Normally they’re not much of a problem. But if you get one – or two, or more – inside your polytunnel, it could be a very different matter. Here’s why:

Here’s a partial list of some of our favourite vegetables:

Beans – both bush and runner, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, chard, courgette, cucumber, melon, seedlings of all kinds, spinach.

And now, a list of the vegetables eaten by voles in our polytunnel:

Beans – both bush and runner, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, chard, courgette, cucumber, melon, seedlings of all kinds, spinach.

beetroot picture, image

The first signs of vole damage - no beetroot for us!

During the early summer they weren’t very noticeable. We knew some were around, as we live rurally and have visits from time to time from just about every kind of mammal and insect that the UK has to offer. But then we realised they were actually living in the polytunnel. The first sign was a distinct lack of beetroot. While they grow perfectly well outside during much of the year, this year I planned on growing some in the protection of the tunnel in order to save seeds from them the following spring. However, the voles had other ideas. At first, the unmistakable signs of chewing appeared, as if someone had applied a mad kind of grater to the roots. Eventually, they were eaten right through down to ground level, and that was that.

Some of our ripening melons were hanging precariously close to the earth, but unless they were in danger of actual contact with it I wasn’t worried – until I found one had been half eaten. Suddenly, it felt very important to support the remaining melons far enough off the ground to be safe.

Cucumbers began to suffer as well. And then the cabbages and beans started to show signs of attack – and the courgettes, and the chard. I was particularly unhappy with the loss of the chard which is one of our green leaf staples through the winter months.

Vole damage. Clearly, Something Had To Be Done.

The Solution

Enter the Longworth Vole trap. It’s a ‘live’ trap as opposed to a trap that kill things, which I wouldn’t use even if there was no food left in the polytunnel at all. It’s quite different from a live mousetrap – and that’s a pity, as I already had one of those. Even worse, they cost around £60.

trap pic, image

A Longworth trap is designed specifically for voles

Voles are sensitive little things, so the trap is more complex than most and consists of two parts, a tunnel and a nesting box. The nesting box should be tilted down towards the tunnel slightly, as voles produce a vast amount of urine and can easily die from hypothermia if they get soaked. This also means that the bait should include pieces of apple or carrot to provide a source of water – essential for even the short-term comfort of a captured vole. This is probably why they love things like beetroot, carrot, melons and so on.

The tunnel section should be set flush with the ground, as voles are apparently unlikely to climb up into one. For bait, use things like oats, raisins, peanut butter (they love it!). Traps should be checked every 12 hours at the most – so, first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening.

Protecting the future

If a fine wire mesh fence and gate is built across the tunnel entrances there is little chance that relocated voles will be able to find their way back in – and this will also apply to rabbits, mice, rats and other unwanted guests. Add a net above the fence, and you’ll keep out butterflies as well – while still allowing bees and hover flies access for pollination.

bunnygate, image

Securely fence the entrances and you'll avoid more than vole problems

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