England: The Badger.

It is later evening here in England now (2130hrs), but I have just been watching the badgers in my garden having something to eat.  There were 2 this evening; probably a boar (male) and a sow (female).  I give them something to eat every night; as it gives me the pleasure of having the visit, and by now, I feel confident that they know through instinct that they will have a nice feed, and also, they are safe and free from injury in my garden.

I am lucky, I know, as a lot of people never even see a live badger, let alone have them in their garden every night.  They arrive by way of a pathway, or ‘run’ located in woodland at the rear of the house.  They normally live as family groups in ‘setts’, homes which are handed down through the generations; sometimes being centuries old.  Under British law, they are a protected animal, and any person must never interfere with a sett or the animals which live in it.  Quite right too.

Each night I set out food for them to come and enjoy – they love savoury little cheese flavoured savoury nibbles, crunchy peanut breakfast cereal, loads of chopped up apples from the garden trees, grapes (their favourite I think); and a chocolate covered peanut bar finely cut up into small bits.  I throw it all into an area of about 2 square metres, so that can forage for the food, as well of giving them both an equal share in what is on offer.  Sometimes, when I feel extra good, I make and cut up a peanut butter sandwich for them, as badgers and peanut ‘things’ go well together.

Badgers are also known as ‘Brocks’; but you find that 99 people out of 100 still refer to them simply as the ‘badger’.  Badgers are members of the ‘Mustelid’ family, and are closely related to weasels and otters.  Mustelid comes from the Latin word for the weasel; or ‘mustela’; which is from the word for mouse.  But they are anything but a mouse; they are normally about (I would estimate) 50-60cm in length, and are utterly distinctive by having a beautiful black and white striped head.

Badgers don’t drink a lot, despite water being available for them. Instead, they get their fluid intake from the huge amount for earthworms that is their favourite food.  In dry spells this can be a problem for them to find worms; but hey, this is England; and it is almost always raining here; which brings the worms to the surface of lawns etc.

If really pushed, badgers will also eat mice, rats, toads, wasps, beetles and even hedgehogs.  I love seeing hedgehogs as they are more rare nowdays; but you either have one or the other, as hedgehogs and badgers do not mix !  If a badger does eat a hedgehog, it only leaves the skin and prickles; a kind of baked potato leftover.

The wonderful black and white stripes down their head lets other animals know that they are fierce and strong; and will defend themselves.  As a pair foraging in the garden; I have never seen any aggression by them to the 5 or 6 foxes which visit every night.  In fact, they sometimes are within easy reach of each other; but my own experience is that they take each other without any problems or showing signs of aggression.

Badgers of one family group have a ‘clan odour’; and they communicate with others in their clan by means of a musky smell which is secreted from a gland located under their tail.  Every badger has its own clan odour, which is used for used for establishing family identity as well as scent marking.  ‘Clan odours’ are made by all the badgers in any sett continually swapping scents with each other; just like us having a perfume or after shave which is regular to others about us as individuals. 

Female badgers, or ‘sows’; can mate with several ‘boars’, or males of the species, even in just one year.  They can mate at any time of the year, which is a little unusual, as Spring tends to be the normal time for wildlife.  Spring is when all the multi fathered young are born to the sow.  She is unique in that she can ‘hold’ fertilized eggs in her body, switching off her pregnancy until there is adequate food source available for the young – now is that not amazing ?

Most badgers die before they reach the age of seven years; and only 60% of the young cubs will make it into a second year of life.  The UK has the highest concentration of badgers of any country; with over 300,000; the 80’s seeing a rise of around 70%.  This is despite a culling programme organised by the government on this ‘protected species’, in the belief that they spread Bovine tuberculosis in cattle.  This is really a policy to please farmers, but is something which is shown by all the scientific studies to have no real effect. Culling badgers causes the family group to break up, and they spread far and wide, which is not the way to control disease spread, even if they were to carry it, which many (including myself) say is utter rubbish.  Culling is undertaken simply to get votes from  landowners and farmers; nothing else. 

Well I hope you have enjoyed a few facts about the badgers of Britain; I will always act in their defence, especially where the culling is orchestrated.  I hope to continue watching and enjoying ‘my badger’ visits every night; and long may it continue.

Regards Mark.

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