Badger Watching

While most people look forward to the longer hours of day light, for those of us who spend a considerable number of hours checking badger setts, often by setting up trail camera’s, the longer hours are a bit of a nuisance.

For a start it means that trips to the sett to set up the camera get later and later whilst the trips to fetch the camera get earlier and earlier. Often the camera is positioned in fairly exposed and public places. The risk of theft is high. So it is too risky to leave it in Situ during the day.

Even my Collie, dedicated to the outdoors life, shrinks deeper into her blankets and snuggles down in her bed when the time comes to get up and get the camera.

Usually a shout of ‘badgers’ will rouse her but it is with some considerable reluctance that she stirs herself and wanders downstairs to join me.

5.00am in the middle of Spring can be a wonderful uplifting, spirit rousing, start to the day. It can also be wet, cold, miserable and spirit crushing. But usually once the sun has crept over the brow of the hill and the blackbirds have started singing, well then it’s not too bad at all.

Collecting the camera is exciting. Will it still be there? Or will some light fingered early riser have stumbled across it and pocketing it, hummed a jolly tune as he or possibly she continues on their way, one wild life trail camera better off. If it is still there, and it usually is, will anything have triggered it?

One of the setts that I monitor is close to human habitation. One of the regular triggerers is a cat. I have had words before with this cat. It has no place triggering my camera. It does not like p nuts and it is not a badger. Still it persists in triggering the camera, and making sure that it gets in on the video. To add insult to injury it often sticks its nasty whiskery face right up close. It is very disappointing to collect the camera and see that there is a lot of footage on the disc, only to find that it is the pesky cat.

Mice are another problem. I guess they are wood and field mice. It is hard to tell as they move very quickly. The p-nuts attract them and even the fact that the nuts are buried under a large rock and there is the close proximity of badgers and a cat to content with, the mice will often put on a decent display of scuttling about, coming to a sudden halt, glancing up at the camera and then scurrying away at high speed.

Lastly the camera is on a timer. If I arrive early to collect it, the last couple of photos and if I am unlucky a short video clip, feature me stomping through the undergrowth and worrying the straps to free it from its position on a tree.

Setting the camera up and laying down the p nuts is also challenging. Badgers are not universally popular, being deemed responsible for Bovine TB, the decline in hedgehogs, ground nesting birds, and bees. One writer in the Spectator blamed them for subsidence in country homes. It would not surprise me if somewhere in one of our, weighty rags a pale and sweaty journo is feverishly typing a piece on the recent spate of celebrity deaths and the increase in badger numbers.

Facts get in the way of propaganda. Badgers have been persecuted for centuries, but, contrary to the ignorant ramblings of some so called countryman on one of the BBC’s many badger hating programmes, the badger population has not exploded.

I digress. On a good day there will be plenty of badger action to look forward to. On a poor day just the bloody cat.

It is rare for the badgers to all appear at the same time, so it is hard to be sure about numbers that are using the sett. I have spent many hours reviewing the video evidence and trying to identify individuals by distinguishing marks on their faces or bodies. Tails can be a good way of telling the difference. Some are thin and pointy, others fat and wide. One badger that I have been observing for four months likes to squat down to eat its p nuts. Some are nervous, dashing off at the first strange noise, others are so focused on the p nuts that it seems nothing will shift them.

As we approach summer it will be harder to capture footage, so maybe Lilly the Collie will get a lie in or two. Regardless of the setbacks it is a fascinating and rewarding thing to do. It has given me a privileged glimpse into the habits of a very private animal.

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