Chance encounters

Visiting badger setts to update the Brockwatch sett records can be very rewarding, not least because these visits often lead to unexpected encounters with other wild animals. Even the resident badgers can put in an unanticipated appearance on occasion.

Early in May 2009 for example, I decided to check out a sett in a roadside spinney which hadn’t visited for several years. I parked a few hundred metres away and started walking along the road, only to spot – within a matter of minutes – a completely new badger sett. There were not many entrance holes, but huge amounts of sandy soil had been excavated from one of them. Brock had certainly been busy! After logging the location by GPS and recording details of the sett, its environment and the various signs of occupation in my notebook, I continued my trek through the spinney by following a very clear badger path through the bluebells and wood anemones. Along the way, I inadvertently disturbed a tawny owl, who flew off to another part of the spinney. Before long the badgers’ route left the woodland at a road crossing point. From this point I rejoined the road for the last part of my walk to the sett which was already on the database.

As I approached the sett I saw a beautiful red vixen, who had also seen me and was departing quickly. I was thrilled to see her, and then thrilled all over again to see two small fox cubs. The vixen had chosen the badger sett as her nursery den. Then I realised that there were more than two cubs, as a third and then a fourth came into sight. A fifth then made an appearance, and finally I was watching six little foxes playing and exploring, all within just a few yards of a road. I decided to leave the sett check for another day and spent the next half hour watching and attempting to photograph fox cubs instead.

Later that same month, I spent another afternoon checking badger setts. I decided to end the day, at around 8pm, by visiting a site where I had seen some likely-looking piles of sandy soil on a slope beneath a cluster of gorse bushes.

I approached the gorse bushes and sure enough there was a new sett for the records. As I examined one hole, looking for evidence of use by badgers, I saw the most positive sign of badger activity I could hope for – a gorgeous little badger cub popped his or her head out! A second badger, either a sibling or parent, was there too but staying inside the tunnel entrance. I slowly took my camera out, but the cub retreated before I could get a photo.

Then, in the long grass at the top of the slope where the sett was located, I came across the little bundle of fluff in the photo below (see also the larger version on Flickr). This time I got my shot before the cub ambled off back to the sett. What a wonderful way to end the day!

By coincidence, I visited the same sett just over a week ago. With fellow Brockwatch committee members Sue and Howard I had been checking out two dead badgers at a couple of nearby setts, both of which had been found in sett entrance holes (which was suspicious, but we could find no evidence of foul play). I then took Sue and Howard to see some other badger setts in the area, and we ended up at this one, where I recounted the tale of my chance encounter in 2009.

We were upwind of the sett and our approach had not been that quiet. This prompted me to say, as we stood overlooking the sett, that we had no chance of seeing any of its residents that evening. I should have known better. Within two minutes of my confident prediction, and in good light, a badger popped out of the nearest hole!

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