In England they are, amazingly, a protected species. I guess France is just less densely populated and larger. Here they are a major agricultural threat and can devastate crops.
And they will break the heart of any gardener.
Imagine going for your daily walk around in spring with dread in your heart instead of pleasurable anticipation. You pass the recently planted wisteria - it thrives. Move on to the large white delphinum in full flower that your husband persuaded you (against your best gardening instincts) to buy at huge cost in the local market. Shrivelling, dieing.
You reach over to touch the nearly dead foliage - eh voila - the remains of the plant come up in your hand without any roots. The following day, it's the wisteria, and so on. In case you are wondering about the picture of the bronze fennel - it is one of my favourites and, unfortunately, theirs. They killed 5 bronze fennels last summer.
We spent hours researching what to do. Finally my husband found a website by a determined and plucky American who also had a vole problem (probably a different species, same devastation). His findings (very, very useful): planting in wire baskets works (am doing this, but they are ugly, and if I have fifty perennials to plant in one day?); mulch with gravel (we will do this, but it costs and we are, well, not rich); they don't like certain things (for example, they like tulips but not narcissus and any species of allium).
I was close to despair last autumn. They had worked their way through: all but one bronze fennel, two angelicas, one delphinium, several salvias (different species, sclarea, x superba, etc.,), the wisteria. You get the picture (this was a new border, remember!) .
The general reaction in the village was not helpful to someone who has been known to declare she lives for her garden: make a garden here, make a meal for the RTs (as I now call them when I am feeling more affectionate). Several people complained because they were even eating the hearts out of their lettuces! Give me a break ... I can go to the supermarket if I want those. Unfortunately they ignored my carrots, potatoes, radishes, broad beans etc. (on the other side of the main path in the veg plot, too sloping for an ornamental garden). Although they did obligingly eat some runner beans planted on tripods to give height and pretty colour (as well as, of course, beans) in what I, rather grandly, call the Rose Walk. The final straw came when they attacked one of my new roses (Cardinal Richlieu, poor old man). I promptly lifted all of the roses from the Rose Walk (about 15 of them), took them up to the house and potted them. I am pleased to say the good Cardinal still lives, although Cuisse de Nymph is looking rather poorly as I type. They all went back in the ground in baskets in November and I nervously planted tulips, daffodils and Allium 'Purple Sensation' (cheap bulbs, just in case). I can see the alliums coming through - so that's alright. But am nervously awaiting the (non?) arrival of the tulips, since this seems to be their bulb of choice. Last year one of my neighbours told me that they hadn' t even had the courtesy to eat hers - just chucked them into the orchard.... Grrr.
At around the time of planting the bulbs, I also started poisoning them with a thing called 'Caussade'. It is poisoned grains of wheat, I think, and comes from Canada (yes, I know, I used to be organic too). I put it in a protected tunnel, where they would feel comfortable and less threatened as they munched (I'm like that) and also where nothing else (except, of course, the poor little dormice, etc.) would get at it. It seemed to work - they gobbled it voraciously and then stopped. A sign, the tin told me, that it was working. So far, so good. Except I noticed in February that they had turned their attention to three purple kale plants ('Red Russian', I think), which I had planted in quantity to look good with the bulbs because the bronze fennel were, sadly, deceased. So far the rest have survived into March - possibly 15 plants? I am also trying a trap that I learnt from the wonderful French organisation 'Croqueurs de Pommes' (for preservation of old fruit varieties). Buckets with metal sheets over them - they run eagerly into the cosy little shelter you have lovingly provided - and drown. Not happening at the moment.
So, I am back to those dreaded morning walks - and buying lots of fine mesh fencing wire for spring planting.
What I have learned so far:
1. The wire baskets work, but are rather unsightly/expensive and take a while to make. Best to plant all shrubs in these and then at least one plant of any herbaceous perennial you put in so you have a back-up plan.
2. They like kale, so I've ordered quite a lot of seed and plan to provide them with a breakfast hedge this year.
3. They like anything with woody roots or taproots (including oriental poppies, forgot to mention that I only have 4 plants left out of a total of about 30 that I grew from seed last year).
4. Caussade works - but they don't like it if it's been out for a while - just like my cats with their food.
5. There aren't enough natural predators in the world, even living opposite a forest city of hawks and owls, and with four cats in the house. One of the cats achieved a couple of goals last year - but given that he was camped out there for months, this is not good. At least he knows where to look. I see him patrolling the rose walk every morning: I suspect that he is in his lovely warm bed when they are most active.
6. They don't (I think) like ornamental onions, so I look forward to a garden stuffed with them; fortunately I adore them. A friend in the village told me that she surrounded certain things with little plantings of narcissus and onions.
Anyway - I do hope that I don't have more spring and summer tragedy to report. Please feel free to offer suggestions and add to the arsenal of rat taupier tactics I'm trying to build.