I had been getting a little perplexed by the behaviour of my badgers; in particular I was worried that they had been driven to eat bark by the recent dry weather. However, the more I looked at the problem, the less sure I became.
Thanks very much to everyone who shared their experience with me here. Spiney, for instance, sent me a picture of bark-eating near a badger sett in Yorkshire. This looks like a beech tree – another tree with quite a sugary bark.
John from Badgerpics.org.uk very helpfully supplied information on the bark-eating habits of different animals, whilst on a related topic Josie was very helpful with further details of the badger ‘nests’. Thanks everyone – it’s great to have this sort of assistance.
To try and settle the matter I spent the evening down at the Pine Tree sett. My plan was to lurk around and see if I could catch the culprit in the act.
When I arrived I realised that it was even less likely that badgers were to blame. The bark-eating had spread to the neighboring trees and extended far up into the branches. There is no way a badger could get so high on such a thin branch.
In fact, the only animal I know that can reach these branches is a squirrel. This seems to be the only possible explanation. It is far too high for deer, rabbits, badgers or even voles. The toothmarks on the high level damage are the same as on the ground level damage, so the same animal is responsible for all of it.
There were indeed squirrels in the area, and they were feeding in the sycamore trees, but I couldn’t quite see exactly what they were feeding on.
To make sure, I sat well back from the area and waited, just in case a badger came out and had a quick nibble on a tree. I was sitting far back from the bank so I couldn’t see the hole, but at 8.50pm I heard the unmistakable sound of a badger scratching, and then a few seconds later the badger itself ambled into view. Before I could even raise the camera it trotted off towards the southern end of the sett. It walked past the freshly gnawed tree without even a second glance.
So there you have it. Two hours of sitting in a wood for one 15 second view of a badger. It was worth it though. The bark was a mystery, but it’s been an interesting challenge to work out what was going on.
So, to conclude, it seems that badgers can and do eat bark, particularly sycamore. However, on this occasion it looks like I have one or more rogue squirrels in the area who have taken a liking to it. The fact that they started to eat the bark at ground level and right outside a badger sett put me on the wrong track for a while, but the true facts emerged.
Like I said, it keeps me out of mischief!