I moved out of London and into the country about five years ago. Another thirty-something professional in search of the good life. I have always enjoyed being out in the countryside: I grew up in a fairly rural area and I’ve spent as much time out of doors as I could, whether it’s been fishing, walking, camping, cross-country running or just mooching about. The natural world has always fascinated me, and over the years I’ve seen a great deal of the British wildlife, from the wild red kites of the Black Mountains to minke whales in the Irish Sea.
Like everyone, I was familiar with the idea of badgers. I’d caught glimpses of a few as they dashed across the road in front of my car at night, and I’d grown accustomed to the sad sight of dead badgers on roadside verges. But I’d never really got close to one though, and if I thought about it, it seemed to me that I had missed out on something.
But I never set out to become the Badger Watching Man – it was never a conscious decision. It came about entirely by accident.
One evening a couple of years ago I went for a walk through the woods near my village. It was a pleasant summer evening, and I had no particular aim in mind other than to go out and get a breath of fresh air. The woods had that close feeling that you get on summer evenings, as if the trees have been soaking in the heat all day and even though the air is getting a little chill in the fields, the woods seem to radiate a gentle warmth in the still air.
It was close to dusk and I was heading home when I heard a thrashing sound in the undergrowth. The woods in this area contain quite a few deer, chiefly muntjac and some fallow deer, so it is not uncommon to disturb large animals as you walk and then hear them crashing off.
The noise came closer. Whatever it was, it was coming towards me, invisible in the undergrowth. “Right”, I said to myself, “here’s a chance to have a good look at a deer”. I sat down quietly by the side of path and waited. I’d learned a long time ago that merely by sitting still and quiet you can see all manner of wild things.
The noise grew louder in the still air as the animal came closer. I imagined what size of creature it could be. From the noise it was making it must be at least the size of a deer.
The suspense was perfect. Being in a forest, alone, at dusk and listening to an unseen animal moving towards you is a wonderfully primeval feeling. Of course, there are no dangerous animals in Britain, I know that perfectly well, but some distant genetic memory still made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
The crashing, stomping noise grew ever closer, and just when I thought it must surely be upon me, the long grass parted on the other side of the path not ten feet away from me. There, instead of the mighty deer I had expected, was the stripey face of a badger.
The badger came to an abrupt stop. It looked at me sternly, much as a schoolteacher might look at you over the top of their spectacles, and snorted. For a long second we sat there looking at each other, each one as surprised as the other. Then, with another quiet snort, the badger turned around and went back the way he’d come, making even more noise than before, if possible.
I just sat there. I’d just come face to face with one of Britain’s more secretive animals in the most dramatic way possible.
From that moment I was hooked. I had to find out more.