Life as a Brockwatcher certainly has its plus points. Releasing badgers back into the wild after rescuing them is definitely a high. Filming a badger watch with former ‘Bond Girl’ Fiona Fullerton for a TV programme a few years ago was quite an experience too!
The other side of the coin is carrying out duties like road casualty checks. Today for example I went out to follow up a report of a road casualty not too far from where I live. This was a sad task, and not only because yet another badger had been killed. This particular badger was a resident of Far Sett, one of the setts I have been monitoring for many years.
Badgers tend to be creatures of habit. They have regular pathways which they follow as they travel between their setts and their favourite foraging grounds. Where those pathways cross our roads, the badger’s lack of road sense and the increasing volume and speed of motor vehicles means that casualties are inevitable.
As I walked along the road where today’s victim had been reported, I spotted the badger path shown in the photo to the right. I have added yellow lines to indicate the route of the path from the side of the road to gap under the hedge. The yellow arrows indicate badger latrines (these serve not only as toilets for the badgers but also as territorial markers, and are often located alongside paths where they pass under hedges or fences). On finding this, I guessed that the badger would not be far away. Sure enough, he was lying just a few metres further down the road, on the opposite verge. I will spare you a description of his injuries, suffice to say they were severe.
The badger was fairly small, suggesting a young animal, maybe even one of last year’s cubs. However, the size of his testes indicated that he was in breeding condition and so he was probably at least two years old. Like so many boar badgers at this time of year, he may have been in search of a mate when his life was cut short by a motor vehicle. I moved him out of sight and logged his precise location for my records.
I then made my way to the nearby badger setts, hoping I would see signs of life to counteract the scene of death I had just witnessed. I was not disappointed. Far Sett looked as busy as ever with several well-used entrance holes. Sett B also showed plenty of evidence of badger activity in the form of tracks, fresh latrines, signs of foraging and freshly excavated earth from one of the entrances. The path between Sett B and the adjacent Main Sett was well-defined and the single open hole at Main Sett looked to be in use.
A hundred metres or so downhill from Main Sett I could see further indications of the badgers’ passion for digging. The ‘Lower Holes’ sett had not been used by badgers for a long time and in their absence it had been occupied by rabbits. But now there were fresh piles of sandstone earth and rocks outside two holes, and there were badger paw and claw marks in the soil.
This suggests to me that cubs may have been born in one of the setts nearby. Why? Well, a female badger with cubs can be very defensive and will sometimes drive away other badgers from the area around her nursery chamber. Those badgers have to find somewhere else to live for a while, and may dig out and occupy small outlying setts. I think this might explain what I saw this afternoon. If I am right, it means that in the midst of death there is new life: a litter of tiny cubs being nursed by a protective sow badger.
Highs and lows indeed. Not just for Brockwatcher but for the badgers themselves.