Badgers. The most over-common* mammal in the country. Breaker of fencers, destroyer of gardens, killer of hedgehogs. An unwelcome disease vector, an out-of-control omnivore: there are too many of them. Something should be done.
Badgers. Our best-loved furry resident, the beloved old Brock, star of children’s stories from The Wind in the Willows to the Chronicles of Narnia as well as the most inspired internet meme of all time. Emblem of the Wildlife Trusts, this countryside superstar should be protected at all costs, especially after a history of cruel persecution.
Britain’s most divisive mammal then? Perhaps so. But a more fitting title might be Britain’s most cunning. Forget Mr. Fox – true, he often displays pluck, and impressive ingenuity whilst raiding a well-fortified chicken house. But for his troubles, he’s long been hounded; the culling of foxes, whether for sport, conservation, or at the behest of a vote-seeking Boris Johnson (him again!), is not and probably will never be as controversial as the possibility of a badger cull. No, the badgers display true cunning – what other animal can combine a healthy population status and massive capacity for destruction, whilst enjoying the highest level of legal protection of just about any other animal on these islands?*
I say hat’s off to them. Let’s hear it for the badgers! There’s something impressive about the way they have slowly, steadily, inveigled their way into our hearts and onto the statute books. Humans may believe themselves to be in charge of these British Isles, and by and large we are, but badgers are a noteworthy reminder that we don’t always call the shots. This seems the appropriate moment to out myself as a badger lover. For who can resist that big, solemn, striped head? That shuffling, snuffling gait, four paws and nose to the ground as they wend their way through the undergrowth? I can’t help it: they’ve won me over as well. I possess three badger-themed T-shirts and one baseball cap. I heartily enjoy and recommend their namesake ales. I even enjoy the sound of the word. Badgers. Brilliant.
Therefore seeing one whilst out for a dusk stroll in Knole Park last week is likely to end up as one of 2012’s most memorable wildlife moments. Common enough they may be, but badgers are rarely seen, especially not for such an extended time in fairly good light. I hadn’t set out to go badger-watching at any particular well-known sett, which would normally be the way to see them. Instead I was quite surprised, to say the least, to find that familiar striped head looking back at me through my binoculars; I had expected a rustling in the leaf litter to be the work of a blackbird, or perhaps a pheasant. I was spellbound, and could hardly nominate anything else to become the first non-avian recipient of the Considering Birds ‘Species of the Week’ award. The badgers win again.
Badger in Knole Park 08/05/12
*Seriously, I’ve heard people say this. Up to a point, it’s fair – badger population density in the UK is, I believe, close to the highest in the world. But we’re talking about 350,000 badgers, as compared to 70 million humans. I’d advise being careful about who or what we describe as ‘over-common’
**Badgers even have their own Act of Parliament!