Get in touch: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting YOGAZ to 80360 or send an email»
Out in the woods with the magical Mr Brock
NATALYA WILSON goes in search of one of our most fascinating mammals – a creature rarely seen live in the wild
FOUR million years ago, long before the evolution of man, badgers were among the animals which roamed the earth.
Fossils found in France show that these mammals have hardly changed during this time and a number of different species are still thriving around the world today.
These fascinating animals are shy and although they have something of a reputation for being vicious, they, like many other animals, fight only to protect their homes, territory and their young.
These nocturnal creatures spend their lives digging intricate and extensive setts which can extend to more than half an acre; foraging for food, sometimes travelling up to three kilometres a night; mating and raising their young.
Just the other week, I was lucky enough to become one of the eight per cent of the human population to have seen these wonderful animals and observe their behaviour within their natural environment, thanks to badger enthusiast, Jane Payne.
Jane, who has been studying badgers for 26 years and is obviously passionate about her work, cares for a hide in Ryedale, where anyone from wildlife enthusiasts to those just curious to see these creatures can go along and observe them up close.
Our small group, including two wildlife experts from Australia, met up with Jane who led us to the hide.
We took our seats at the indoor viewing platform and were advised to keep as still and quiet as possible as these creatures have extremely sensitive hearing and their setts could run underneath the hide.
Jane, who is clearly familiar with this particular badger family’s behaviour, popped outside and smeared peanut butter on some of the logs and scattered peanuts to entice the animals. A hush fell over us all as we craned our necks and squinted through binoculars to catch a glimpse of any movements that would indicate the badgers’ arrival.
As we watched and waited, we were enchanted by the sounds of the forest settling for the evening.
The small birds such as great tits that had been feeding close-by, the pair of jays that live in the glade and the squirrels that had been scampering around eventually all disappeared as dusk fell.
Soon, the peace was punctuated by a movement as the first of the badgers, the dominant male, appeared from out of the sett. Everyone looked on, hardly daring to breathe.
This beautiful creature was about a metre long and Jane told us that each badger can be recognised by the shape of the tail, which can be fan-like or flat. As he sniffed his way towards us, we all took time to admire him and felt privileged to see this magnificent boar in such close proximity.
Jane told us about this family of badgers and about their behaviour, explaining that you may catch a fleeting glimpse of one of them, while other nights the whole family will be visible.
This particular sett has been here for more than 100 years and has been used by generations of badgers.
The local farmers and landowners are very protective of it and keep a close eye, reporting any suspicious noises. This is in addition to stealth cameras that Jane has placed very high up in the trees to record any movement, be it a rabbit, mouse or human interference, which is transmitted to her phone.
We were lucky. After this male had had his fill – and unwittingly entertained us by climbing logs to search out the delicious peanut butter treat – a second male emerged, popping to a nearby latrine.
Jane explained that badgers are very clean animals and build latrines outside the sett. They also generally eat outside, keeping their homes clean. As these omnivores will eat almost anything, from insects, earthworms and slugs, to foliage, lizards and fish, it’s not a bad thing.
Once again, we realised how lucky and privileged we were to see these incredible creatures in their own environment as this second male foraged around close to the hide, before scampering off and being joined by two other badgers, including a female. We watched, spellbound, as they groomed each other and played, before disappearing off into the inky night.
The best time to see the badgers at this hide is between mid-May and mid-August, after the breeding season.
As well as looking after the hide, Jane conducts talks for adults and children and keeps up-to-date with badger issues, attending conferences around the country, where scientists, specialists and enthusiasts share their knowledge and research.
Before allowing anyone on a visit to the hide, Jane asks detailed questions when booking, to make sure that their interest in the badgers is genuinely for the right reasons.
If you are interested in seeing these incredible creatures, phone Jane on 01723 882295 or email firstname.lastname@example.org