Scottish Badger Week 2020
Saturday the 9th of May marked the start of Scottish Badger Week, an annual event that aims to educate people about badgers in our landscape. With the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in place this year is quite different. You can find out more about badgers in Scotland and Scottish Badger Week on the website www.scottishbadgers.org.uk
I fell in love with badgers while living in Dumfries and Galloway after I found out that we had some visiting the garden. I captured lots of footage on trailcameras and would occasionally see one darting away on my early morning walks to the monastery. I became interested in finding out more about these mysterious creatures and so began my training in badger surveying at the end of last year. Since then I have found several setts in my local area. Virtually every walk I go on now involves checking for signs of the local badgers - pathways, dung pits, setts and so on. I was particularly excited to discover that we have one badger that visits our garden every night - even though we live near a busy town. Needless to say the trailcam is out there every night and I have even been lucky enough to watch it through the bedroom window on a couple of occasions.
Nothing would prepare me for the excitement of Saturday afternoon though...
On one of my regular walks I had spotted some holes on a hillside, roughly half way up and spread over two fields, with a fence through the middle. As it was quiet and the weather was nice I decided to take a look, just to get a feel of the area and assess whether it might be badgers living there or just rabbits (there was definitely plenty of them around!). On reaching the site I was immediately drawn to one particular entrance. The hole itself was textbook - a perfect D shape, smooth, so indicating it was well used, and with bedding both inside and outside the hole.
I laid down my bag and crouched down to take a closer look when I was suddenly aware of thumping noises, like something large running down the hill. I was surprised to see a badger dart passed the entrance of the hole. I must have disturbed them as two more quickly followed, with the third one stopping to have a look at the strange creature that had woken them up! I was pleased to confirm that this was indeed an active badger sett! I managed to fire off a few photos before grabbing my bag and moving away. As with all wildlife surveys the welfare of the animals is most important and so I didn't want to disturb them anymore than I already had.
There is something magical about badgers that draws you to them and once you've experienced them in the wild for the first time, you can't help but be utterly amazed by them. I've always wanted to watch badgers in the wild which, although not the main one, is also a reason why I started surveying setts. This sett is perfect for that. Most of the other setts I am monitoring are on embankments covered in small trees or underneath hedgerows. This one isn't. It's perfectly open and there are many places around it where you can sit and watch them from a safe distance.
With that in mind I decided to visit the sett again on Monday night. The badger watching guidance recommends you get there and position yourself downwind of the sett an hour or so before sunset. I arrived earlier than that as I wanted to be sure I found the best place to sit and I'm glad I did because I actually spent 20 minutes surrounded by some cows who had decided to come and see what I was up to! I ended up having to move twice because of them and had actually given up hope of seeing any badgers as the cows had been trampling all over the sett and I had been up
I told myself I'd wait until 9pm and sat myself back down, downwind of the sett, and waited. Rabbits started to appear all over the place. I tuned my ears into the sounds they were making as they ran up and down the hillside. I was watching one when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, a badger started walking up the side of the fence. It had snuck out of a hole, scrambled under the fence and was now sitting on the other side watching me. It's grey fur had a reddish tinge to it and I'm not sure if this is because of the soil its sett has been dug into. I was amazed at how easy they are to miss until you see the distinctive black and white face. This one blended in well to the reddish soil and I kept losing sight of it. I then noticed a white nose poking out of another hole. It disappeared, only to reappear again moments later. Soon it too joined the first badger over the fence. A third one then appeared from another hole nearer the top of the sett.
It's impossible to describe the feeling you have when you first see a badger in the wild. All that waiting, filled with anticipation, until suddenly one appears. That moment is make or break. The slightest movement or noise can send it right back underground and you'll be lucky to see it again that night.
I sat around for a while, watching as these three badgers went about their business. I wondered where they would go next. Do they each go their separate ways? Do they avoid the road and stick only to the fields? How far will they travel that night? I know there is at least one other sett nearby so where does one territory end and the other begin? How many more territories are there in the area? These are all questions that I will strive to find the answers to as I get to know this sett better in the coming months - because I will be back.
Walking back to the car I wondered at how many people have walked that same path as me, completely unaware that right underneath their feet is a family of badgers sleeping silently. I worried that they would be OK, safe from persecution, and I wondered when I can go back again, to spend a little more time in their world.
Til next time,
Keywords: badgers, conservation, mammals, scottish badger week, scottish wildlife, wildlife photography
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