My involvement in the study and conservation of all kinds of wildlife continued apace in 1978. During regular forays into the countryside close to home, I recorded the presence of birds, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and wildflowers. I also went on trips further afield, some organised by the Daventry Natural History Society and others by a man who would over the next few years become my mentor, Donald Payne. I became a Young Ornithologists Club (now RSPB Wildlife Explorers) leader in March, and later in the year I became involved with raising funds for the World Wildlife Fund (now WWF).
While all this was going on, I was also devoting more of my time to badgers. My field notebooks for 1978 include several references to the badger setts which I had found, and in a summary of mammal observations I wrote that I knew of over 15 setts in all. One of those setts was destined to play a very significant part in my life, though you wouldn’t guess that from my first written report of it (dated February 11th). This simply stated that there were “signs of activity” there. Over the next three months I must have made further visits and observed more sign of badger activity, which led me to conclude that this sett would be a good one to watch. I say this because my diary for 1978, after many weeks with no entries, has this to say about May 19th:
Rob [my youngest brother] and I went to try badger watching … as we were walking along the ridge we suddenly saw 4 fox cubs, which promptly disappeared! We managed to watch 2 different ones on and off – they were people watching! Then we went further along close to a sett. A badger kept just showing himself. A tawny owl flew past within 2 metres of us! It landed in a tree nearby, then flew off. Finally, [we] got super views of a badger and glimpses of another.
Badger cubs at sunset, photographed at ‘Main sett’ in the early 1980s. View on Flickr.
During the remainder of 1978 I watched badgers at my new ‘watching sett’ another 16 times. I usually watched either with my brother Robert, or with members of the Daventry NHS-YOC Group. During the summer we saw the badgers in good daylight. Observations were very brief some nights, but on other occasions we were treated to some marvellous views. The night of September 23rd, when I took two friends (Jonathan and John) on their first badger watch, was particularly memorable. The following is based on an account which I wrote in 1979:
We arrived at about 7.45pm and settled down behind some gorse bushes close to the most heavily used sett entrances. In this position the wind would not blow our scent towards any of the holes. We were as quiet as possible – which was just as well, because on our arrival a badger emerged. He was quickly joined by another.
The two badgers groomed and played for five or ten minutes. Then they started wandering off downhill. We would soon lose sight of them, but I decided to risk illuminating them with the torch I had taken to help us find our way back from the sett after dark. So I stood up, switched on the torch and ….. the badgers didn’t take a blind bit of notice! We were able to get views of them which were almost as good as those I had enjoyed during the summer. Then another badger came out of a hole quite close to us, but unfortunately he detected us and went back below ground.
We decided to follow the two badgers who were now moving out of the range of the torch beam. So downhill we went, quiet as mice (or at least we tried to be). We listened intently for the badgers, who can be quite noisy and careless once they are sure there is no danger about. One badger was heard heading away from us to our right, but the other was still below us, somewhere around the site of a new hole which the badgers had recently dug towards the bottom of the slope.
Steadily we advanced, getting closer and closer to the new hole, looking and listening all the time for the badger. Where on earth was he? Yikes! There he was, just two metres in front of us! The next few minutes were unbelievable. Under the light of the torch the badger stood with his back to us, digging in the ground for grubs or worms. Then he turned round, and began to trot past, coming within about a metre of us! This first class view of such a beautiful creature was amazing – but also, for Jonathan, amusing. Jonathan tried desperately to keep his mirth silent. But then the sound escaped and the badger stopped in his tracks, looking nervously around, only two metres away from us. The torch might have been the moon for all he cared, but the noise had alerted him and he dashed to the newly dug hole and dived below ground.
I had at last found a sett which was close to home (just half an hour’s walk away) and where the badgers were easy to watch. Close contact with wild creatures of all kinds was something I had always loved, but I found my encounters with badgers to be something particularly special. Those encounters were among the most thrilling experiences in my life, and the more I saw of these marvellous mammals, the more attached to them I became.
So I continued visiting the sett and watching its occupants, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, and often with organised groups: during the next two decades I helped around 2,000 people to see the increasingly tolerant Brocks. Over the years I also got to know the badgers better and to recognise – and follow the lives of – some of the individual animals. At the same time, some of the badgers also came to recognise me and accept my presence even at very close quarters. This enabled me to capture many still and moving images of my furry friends with camera and camcorder (including the two photographs in this post).
My progression from being a watcher of badgers to one of their protectors as well, a founder member of the group now known as Brockwatch and an officer of the NFBG (now the Badger Trust), was possibly inevitable – and certainly something to write about in a later instalment of this blog!
Two badger cubs – and their mum – photographed at ‘Sett B’ in the early 1980s. Of all the photos I have taken of badgers, this remains one of my favourites. View on Flickr.