This started off as a reply to a comment on my last post, but it got a bit long so I thought I’d convert it into a post of its own right. It is an interesting subject, and this isn’t really a reply to the comment so much as the train of thought it triggered off in me.
I talked about trying to keep hidden from the badgers. As Undergrowth commented, I’m sure that the badgers are perfectly aware of my presence, even if it is just from coming across my scent as they forage in the wood. I live in hope that one day they’ll get used to me being there!
And it would be perfectly possible to use food to get the badgers to accept me. You can train animals to do just about anything with food. The famous psychologist B. F. Skinner once trained a cat to play the piano. Skinner trained animals to do all sorts of things – he created the world’s first guided missile using trained pigeons to home in on the target (thankfully never used, not least for the sake of the pigeons!)
I’ve seen how badgers make full use of available food resources, and I’m sure that regular feeding would get them literally eating out of my hand. I know that many people feed badgers. The extra food can be a real benefit to the badgers as well as providing some great views for the watchers. When you think about it, it’s no different to feeding the birds, and I certainly do that.
But the problem is that once you start feeding animals, you lose the natural behaviour. I’m not saying it’s wrong to feed them – lord knows we’ve messed around with our wildlife in far more serious ways – but I don’t want to go down that route. I have put out some peanuts for the badgers in the past, but I’ve stopped doing it now. I want to be able to see the badgers in their natural state.
In other words, I don’t want to just watch them, I want to understand them. I want to understand what they do, and how they live.
This is also why I go to so much trouble to stay out of sight. Even though the badgers are sure to know that I’ve been there, I still want to make as little impact as possible. I don’t want the badgers to associate me with fear or danger. If they come to associate my scent with someone crashing about the undergrowth or blundering into view, then they’ll learn to avoid me in the future. I don’t want them to become friendly with me, just kind of neutral.
It sounds like a lot of trouble, but it means that ‘my’ badgers are truly wild. What I see is as close to natural behaviour as possible. That’s important for me.
As always, these are my own views. I know that some people will disagree and that’s fine. There are many situations where feeding badgers is a good thing for all concerned. Just not for me any more and not at this sett.