According to the news it was the UK’s worst storm this year. Heavy rain and gale force winds, gusting up to 70mph and causing damage in exposed places. This was the weather forecast for Saturday, coincidentally the date of the long-planned field trip of the Bedfordshire Badger Network.
In the event, the rain eased off on Saturday morning, and although the wind was still strong it was a bright, clear day. The plan for the field trip was to visit and monitor the badger setts in a wood near the town of Ampthill. Unfortunately the wood is on top of a high ridge and exposed to the full force of the wind, which meant that there was a significant risk of falling branches. In fact, members of the network had been visiting this wood under similar conditions on a field trip last year, when a full-sized oak tree had come crashing the ground. They wisely decided to beat a retreat.
Common sense prevailed again this year. Instead of visiting the wood we elected to drop down off the high ridge and visit the known setts in the more sheltered valley below. This area is well known to the committed members of the network as it was the site of their large-scale bait marking study, which over ten years mapped the territories of badger clans across a wide area (see the Bedfordshire Naturalist 2007 for details, available from the Bedfordshire Natural History Society). The full story of the study, and how the badger territories changed over time, makes fascinating reading and is a tribute to the hard work that went into it.
If the setts in the area are well known, why did we need to visit them? Well, for me it was a chance for a walk in the countryside, to get some fresh air and talk about badger-related matters. On a more serious note, although badgers will stay in the same territories and setts for hundreds of years, they are rarely static. Setts become more or less active over time as the populations change and shift. Regular monitoring helps you to understand these changes.
We visited a dozen or so locations and looked for evidence of recent activity. New setts and new holes were mapped using GPS (this is real high-tech badger watching), and other evidence such as dung pits was examined. Individually, each observation doesn’t mean much, but the network has been monitoring the area for years and these little snippets build up into an impressive record of badgers in the environment.
We enjoyed the bracing wind and clear skies for most of the morning until, as we headed home, the clouds rolled in and the torrential rain came down (or rather sideways). Nevertheless, it was a very good way to spend a day, and it was good to get back amongst badgers again.