OK. Time to bare my soul a little.
Most people in Britain have never seen a badger. Many have seen a dead badger by the side of the road, but few ever see a live one. Of those that do, I suspect that most are content to enjoy the experience, to enjoy the badger as an impressive yet endearing part of our wildlife. As I’ve said before, once people see a badger they seem to become hooked. Even Ernest Neal, the undisputed authority on badgers, first came across one by accident and this led to a lifetime of work studying these creatures.
But for me it is not enough to just watch badgers. I’ve gone past the “wow – there’s a badger!” phase. I want to understand them. I think I’m becoming obsessed.
Now don’t get me wrong – it’s not a bad obsession to have. It’s quite healthy. I could be addicted to drink or drugs, but instead I’m becoming addicted to badgers. It’s a pleasant diversion from work, it keeps my mind active and stops me getting up to mischief, and most importantly it encourages me to get out and enjoy the countryside on my doorstep.
What started out as a good excuse to go for a walk in the woods has now got me learning about animal behaviour, territoriality, social bonding and the whole ecology of woodlands. As soon as I think I’ve understood how badgers work, I discover something new and realise I actually don’t know very much at all.
All of this philosophical musing has been triggered by a short walk in the woods this morning. I wanted to go out and have a look at the Pine Tree sett, specifically to see if there was any more evidence of badgers eating the sycamore bark.
When I got to the sett I found that there was a lot more evidence of bark eating. Another tree had been ‘attacked’ and more bark was missing from the original tree. But from what I’ve seen, I’m not sure that badgers are the culprits.
The bark shows clear toothmarks – lots of them and quite small – rather than a few large claw marks that I’d expect from a badger. More conclusive was that the damage to the bark now extends to about 8 feet off the ground. Badgers are actually surprisingly good at climbing trees (and they seem to enjoy it as a game) but I think that this height is beyond them. I now need to research squirrel feeding, and see if that fits the bill. Even better, I need to spend an evening here and see if I can catch the culprit in the act.
Acting on suggestions from people on the Wild About Britain forum, I examined the badger dung in the latrine nearby. It seemed a bit more green than usual but there were no clear signs of bark in it. And no – I didn’t bring any home for analysis. I’m not that obsessed yet!
Walking back through the woods, I came across more puzzling animal signs. For want of a better word I’ll call these ‘nests’. They were substantial piles of grass that had been pulled up and shaped into a mound, sometimes with a hollow in the middle. They are undoubtedly the bedding of some animal.
I’ve come across these before, and I wondered if they were piles of bedding that a badger had collected and then for some reason abandoned on the way back to the sett. After seeing more of them today I think that they are more likely to be nests in their own right, where an animal sleeps. I found them in dry, sheltered spots. Here’s one under a fallen tree:
Here’s one under the shelter of a pine tree:
The nests were associated with paths, but whether these were badger paths I could not say. The whole area is criss-crossed by badger paths and deer paths, and to confuse matters the badgers use deer paths and the deer use badger paths.
Are these nests made by badgers? What other animals deliberately gather bedding from distance? If they are badger nests, why are they there? Why are the badgers not safely underground in their sett? Are they used as temporary shelter? Are these badgers part of a sett, or are they some sort of homeless, ‘hobo badgers’, sleeping rough? If so, how do they fit into the territories of the other badgers?
Do you see now how this whole badger business can become obsessive? If anyone has any answers, please do let me know.