In the plot next to us there are badgers, lots of them because a kindly young woman feeds them peanuts each night and when it’s hot she puts out water for them. I completely understand and respect this charming, intelligent person. She loves these black and white characters who bustle about beneath her garden wall. I respect this.
The plot is roughly 30x40 metres in size. Years ago when the patch was a commercial vegetable garden, no badgers existed here, it was sold thirty years ago for development and like any empty space anywhere in Britain, badgers moved in. In the countryside badgers dominate, they are almost everywhere. If you remove them from one place, you’ll find that they have to fight local badgers for the space.
Badgers are predators and partly due to the sheer volume of them, ground nesting birds, field mice, voles, even hedgehogs have declined in numbers. Hungry badgers eat all of these when they come across them, as well as beetles and many insect larvae, and of course, insects are in rapid decline so some of them being on the badger menu doesn’t help. I too love animals. One night, I almost had an accident when I swerved to avoid hitting a badger which ran across the road.
Research all over the country has shown that where badgers are fed by kindly humans, their numbers increase locally. Nine badgers live on this small plot next to us, which is up for development. When this week the land was cleared of shrubs, brambles and small trees, the young woman understandably went wild. She rang the police. Badgers have been protected all across Britain since the 1990s. She rang the badger protection society. She spoke her mind to the workers. To her, these animals are family, each one has its nickname, each one is talked about fondly, even Boris the bully who passed away this winter. And here they were being disturbed.
The workers were careful as they cleared the land, they have done this many times before on plots where badgers live. On their first day I pointed out the dangers, told them to be careful, they took note. In the sky above us, seagulls swarmed, swooped and cried, no doubt picking off the small creatures disturbed as their secure 30 year old habitat was being levelled. It is as if we were at the seaside, but the sea is 45 minutes drive away. They dominate the area, and I don’t use that word lightly. Last night a swarm of gulls flew overhead, I counted more than forty before I lost count.
Seagulls are classified as migratory and so have also been protected since 1918. In common with badgers, it is illegal to endanger them. Do so and you will likely spend 2 years behind bars and pay a hefty fine. This is serious stuff.
Yet across this country, they have flown inland, away from the sea, to find easy food in our towns and they have become a pest, even attacking people. This is a tiny town, you can walk from one side to the other in ten minutes, yet we have dozens and dozens seagulls, we have lots of badger setts too. Here there are hardly any songbirds, I’ve seen the odd blackbird, a few sparrows, yet before moving here our garden burst with such a variety of song that it was a pleasure to sit outside, and that was a short drive away. Here, no songbirds sing. Over there we had voles, field mice, loads of different beetles, grubs, insects abounded, frogs, toads and more, yet the surrounding area was farmed commercially with heavy tractors and heavy spraying. This provides an interesting comparison as there were no seagulls and only one badger sett on our side of the village.
Protecting wildlife is essential - there are far too many humans and we are continuing to build houses and rape nature in countless ways. This is the way of the world and what they hope to do next door, building three houses. We need to review how we find a balance of creatures so as to ensure a rich diversity of life, not simply protect a few species which are quite capable of looking after themselves. It is time we looked at the complete picture, those vulnerable little voles, those delicate songbirds, to say nothing of the plethora of glorious beetles.