Watching badgers might be seen by some people as an odd, even eccentric, pastime. It probably is. But then other people spend their evenings and weekends watching football, and that has always seemed strange to me.
But why watch badgers? I’ve asked myself this question many times, and there is no simple answer. It is easy to say that watching badgers is mildly addictive, but there must be some reward in it for me because I keep doing it. This series of posts is an attempt to explore my reasons for going out to the woods time and again.
First of all, I’d love to be able to say that I’m going to make some startling scientific discoveries about badgers, but this probably isn’t true. As a species they have been studied by far more capable and experienced people than me, so it is unlikely that I will add any wholly new chapters to the book of badgers. I flatter myself that I may gain a few small insights into their behaviour and habits, but I don’t think I’ll be adding much to the sum total of badger knowledge.
So, to be honest, my interest is driven mostly by personal curiosity. I imagine that an interest and curiosity about nature in general is probably necessary if you are going to get excited about watching badgers.
In Britain we are lucky enough to have a whole spectrum of wildlife, from the tiniest invertebrates to the largest whales, but the badger occupies a special place for me. Badgers are secretive and relatively rare animals – most people never see them except for a quick glimpse as they run across the road – yet at the same time they live almost in our midst. The badgers I watch regularly are little more than a mile from my house, and many people are lucky enough to have badgers visit their garden. I take a strange delight in the idea that these animals are living almost unknown and unsuspected alongside us. The badger is living proof that no matter how much we have tried, we have not yet fully tamed our countryside.
This feeling is even stronger when you meet a badger face to face. To put it bluntly, they are physically impressive animals. Although not huge, they are Britain’s largest native carnivore. Their black and white face is instantly recognisable. They have presence.
Over the centuries, we have gradually exterminated most of the large animals in Britain (with the exception of deer, which, being tasty to eat, have been jealously protected). If I could travel back in time two thousand years or so, then I would find my badgers sharing their wood with wild boar, wolves, beavers and even bears. And who now remembers the Irish Elk? We’ve wiped out these animals so thoroughly that few people think of them as British species. They were here and they are gone but the badger remains. The last of the truly wild big mammals, badgers have stubbornly stayed put despite everything we have done to them. In some ways, the badger is a creature of the past. How can such a big, bold animal still be living wild in Britain’s ordered and controlled countryside? Yet here they are.
Good for the badgers, I say. I think that this is one of the reasons why I like to watch them.