Sorry about the poor quality phone pic. Badger courtesy of the Natural History Museum in Tring – a fascinating Victorian menagerie of stuffed animals.
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The government has announced that it will go ahead with the widely ill-advised badger cull. The details of how the government proposes to go about this cull are even worse than we imagined. They are relying on ‘ifs’ and making assumptions not based on evidence. At least 70% of the badger population in many areas will be killed, many of them healthy. This decision comes in spite of scientific evidence which shows that culling is a misjudged effort to control bovine TB, will be of little help in reducing the disease long term and could actually make things worse! The frustrating thing is that the science may only be proved wrong when the badgers have been slaughtered and the bovine TB (which is far more likely to be a product of poor farming practices) is still there.
The fact is, a badger cull didn’t work in Ireland. It won’t work here.
Not only is scientific evidence against the government, the public are too. A poll for the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-13684482) found unanimous opposition to the badger cull in all areas, rural as well as urban, including those areas worst affected by bovine TB. The arrogance of this government saddens me, but doesn’t surprise me any more. I think I’ll write to my MP again, except she – Nadine Dorries – is very rude and ignored me last time.
Most alarming is the government’s attempt to try to cull badgers on the cheap. They are planning to give farmers licences to shoot badgers on their land. The thought of essentially untrained amateurs going out and taking pot-shots at badgers is horrifying. Shooting badgers is difficult as badgers have a very thick skull, thick skin and a very thick layer of subcutaneous fat and because of the short, squat body and the way their legs work, free-shooting means a high risk of wounding the badgers instead of killing them, causing a slow, painful death.
The RSPCA believes that badgers are being made the scapegoats for a rise in bovine TB in cattle. They are asking supporters to express their outrage at the decision in their tagging campaign via their main facebook page which will act as a petition of sorts. It is vital that we all send a strong message to the government that bad science must not prevail. You can find more information at http://www.facebook.com/RSPCA.
Most of the time I’m generally upbeat about the state of wildlife in the UK. Look at the success stories, like the buzzards, the red kites and the polecats, right here in Bedfordshire. Look at the otters, which are now present in every English county. I never imagined that I’d be living 10 miles away from otters, not unless I moved to the wilds of Scotland or Wales. There are lots of encouraging signs out there that we’re finally starting to respect our natural world.
And then something like this happens. It makes me prostrate with dismal…
Sunday evening started off hot, humid and still. The brisk walk up the hill to the wood left me sticky and winded, while the dark clouds gathering overhead showed that the breathless weather would soon break.
The wheat in the wheatfield is ripening. I was pleased to see a new badger dung pit with fresh dung, showing that once again the badgers are using this food source, and also that there are enough badgers for them to mark it out as territory. Having had no luck in seeing badgers lately, I decided to head to the east end of the sett. It’s a risky strategy because the sett is on top of a small rise in the ground and from this side a good 75% of it is out of sight, particularly with the luxuriant growth of nettles, elder and dog’s mercury. Nevertheless, it was at this end of the sett that the badgers were to be found on the last couple of visits. I may see badgers or I may not, but if I were to see one here the chances are that I would get a good view.
It was good to be back in the wood again, to be lying in damp leaf litter instead of walking the streets of the City in a pinstripe suit. It’s a comforting feeling that the woods – the trees, the branches, the animals – are always here, come rain or shine, even when I’m not. It’s nice to think that life goes on without me.
I’d like to say it was peaceful, but the truth it is that the wood was a real cacophony of noise. The sheep in the pasture field baa-ed at each other, a buzzard ‘pee-arrr’-ed from a branch above me, a pair of muntjacs barked loudly at each other, and to cap it off a small flock of great tits chattered in the bushes. This was not an empty collection of trees, but an ecosystem in full flow. I shot a video to record the sound – it doesn’t show anything and it isn’t great quality but it gives you an idea. I should really bring my digital recorder out with me for occasions like this.
At 8.20pm the weather broke and the rain started – big heavy drops. I was sitting under an ancient sycamore coppice, which is as dry a spot as you’re likely to find, so it wasn’t too bad. Within minutes the warm, still air had been replaced by a freshening wind that was strong enough to move the trees around me. Quite surprising how quickly the weather can change.
At 8.40 a badger appeared. Annoyingly it was at the north-east end of the sett, while I was at the south-east, so no chance of pictures. Still, it was good to see a badger in the flesh again.
At 8.50 I heard the sounds of badgers yipping in the impenetrable undergrowth of the sett. This was good, as it meant that at least two badgers were playing happily, albeit invisibly.
By 9.10 no other badgers had appeared and I called it a night. I had to be in work the next day after all. With the wind and rain muffling my movements I headed off. And then, just as I was leaving the wood, I disturbed a badger no more than 20 feet away. We both stopped, surprised, before it crashed off into the undergrowth.
That makes at least three badgers at the sett, which is good. And you know what, I’d swear the badger I disturbed was a cub. I can’t be sure, as I find it very difficult to make snap judgements of badger size when they’re on their own. It’s easy when they’re in a group and you can compare sizes, but on their own it’s more difficult. I always get a little suspicious when I talk to people and they say ‘I saw a badger cub in the field last night’. I’ve spent many hours watching badgers and I still find it difficult to tell a reasonably-grown cub from an adult. But perhaps that’s just my lack of perception. Anyway, I digress. This badger looked cub-like in its size and it’s fluffy grey coat. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I hope that it was.
I walked home in the rain, very happy despite the weather.
There have been rumours that, given my lack of success with badgers this year, I’ve been resorting to crudely faked pictures.
I deny this completely. I think this picture speaks for itself…
I was driving to work early this morning, and there, at the side of the road, was what looked very much like a dead polecat. It is true that most people don’t get excited by dead polecats, but I’m not like most people and this one was just a few hundred yards from my home. It was on the main road, just across from the field behind my house where I go for my little tracking walks and where I’ve seen possible polecat signs over the last year.
I get excited because polecats have gone from being extinct east of the Welsh Marches to re-colonising large parts of England. They still aren’t common though, so to have one (admittedly dead) on my doorstep is good news. The only good thing about roadkill animals is that where there is one, there’ll be other live ones nearby (with the possible exception of the dead wallaby a friend of mine came across in Buckinghamshire once – they’re probably quite rare).
There has to be a question mark over this polecat because although the size, shape and colour looked right, I didn’t actually get out of the car and examine it. I was on my way to work. I had a train to catch and I was in my best suit. I was booked in to carry out psychological assessments on senior executives from two well-known companies today, and it would not have been good to have turned up at the day job with a lingering aroma of dead polecat about me.
If it’s still there when I get home from work tomorrow I’ll go and have a proper look.
OK. I may be busy at the moment, but that doesn’t of course mean that I’m not perfectly aware of what the government is planning to do to England’s badgers. Not only is the proposed cull wholly unscientific, they’re planning to do it on the cheap by asking farmers to shoot the badgers on their land. The entire business has the makings of a complete shambles, and all for no appreciable benefit other than political maneuvering. That’s the annoying thing. If a cull was necessary for some reason then it would be understandable, but this is just nonsense.
All of which means that I’m very happy to reproduce the e-mail I received today via the Bedfordshire Badger Network. I’ll be writing to my MP again soon (Nadine Dorries – she never did reply to my last e-mail, by the way) and I urge others to do the same.
I got a pleasant surprise in the garden this evening. I was checking my wasp trap (we have lots of wasps at the moment) when there was a frantic sound of wings flapping. I looked up and there, not ten feet away on the lawn, was a sparrowhawk, a small bird clutched in its talons.
A brief second, a fierce stare from piercing eyes, and it was off, taking its prey with it.
It was hard luck on the poor sparrow, but great to have a sparrowhawk in the garden – and such a close view too. I’ve been hoping to see one here for ages.