Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

The question has to be asked. Why do people watch badgers? Why do I watch badgers?

Watching badgers might be seen by some people as an odd, even eccentric, pastime. It probably is. But then other people spend their evenings and weekends watching football, and that has always seemed strange to me.

But why watch badgers? I’ve asked myself this question many times, and there is no simple answer. It is easy to say that watching badgers is mildly addictive, but there must be some reward in it for me because I keep doing it. This series of posts is an attempt to explore my reasons for going out to the woods time and again.

First of all, I’d love to be able to say that I’m going to make some startling scientific discoveries about badgers, but this probably isn’t true. As a species they have been studied by far more capable and experienced people than me, so it is unlikely that I will add any wholly new chapters to the book of badgers. I flatter myself that I may gain a few small insights into their behaviour and habits, but I don’t think I’ll be adding much to the sum total of badger knowledge.

So, to be honest, my interest is driven mostly by personal curiosity. I imagine that an interest and curiosity about nature in general is probably necessary if you are going to get excited about watching badgers.

In Britain we are lucky enough to have a whole spectrum of wildlife, from the tiniest invertebrates to the largest whales, but the badger occupies a special place for me. Badgers are secretive and relatively rare animals – most people never see them except for a quick glimpse as they run across the road – yet at the same time they live almost in our midst. The badgers I watch regularly are little more than a mile from my house, and many people are lucky enough to have badgers visit their garden. I take a strange delight in the idea that these animals are living almost unknown and unsuspected alongside us. The badger is living proof that no matter how much we have tried, we have not yet fully tamed our countryside.

This feeling is even stronger when you meet a badger face to face. To put it bluntly, they are physically impressive animals. Although not huge, they are Britain’s largest native carnivore. Their black and white face is instantly recognisable. They have presence.

Over the centuries, we have gradually exterminated most of the large animals in Britain (with the exception of deer, which, being tasty to eat, have been jealously protected). If I could travel back in time two thousand years or so, then I would find my badgers sharing their wood with wild boar, wolves, beavers and even bears. And who now remembers the Irish Elk? We’ve wiped out these animals so thoroughly that few people think of them as British species. They were here and they are gone but the badger remains. The last of the truly wild big mammals, badgers have stubbornly stayed put despite everything we have done to them. In some ways, the badger is a creature of the past. How can such a big, bold animal still be living wild in Britain’s ordered and controlled countryside? Yet here they are.

Good for the badgers, I say.  I think that this is one of the reasons why I like to watch them.

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In the beginning…

Since this is my first post, I feel I should give an account of how my badger-watching career began.

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 when 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.

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