Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A pint of badger

For the first time in my life I came nose to nose with a wild badger last week - just a thin pane of glass between us. My partner had organised a surprise outing to celebrate our anniversary and it was going to be down in the woods at dusk.

The hide was sunk into the earth at the foot of a hill in the woods: a hill riddled with badger holes. Once a large sett, it was now home to one sow and two boars. A cub born early in the year, after an exceptionally hard winter, had disappeared and is thought to have died.

A ranger sprinked peanuts in front of the window and we waited for the badgers to appear. A frog hopped over the woodland floor under some bracken, a wood mouse scurried nearby and tawny owls hooted from the tree tops.

A black and white mask flashed from the top of the hill. The sow lifted her snout repeatedly to scent the air and after a few minutes followed a round-about trail down to the peanut larder in front of the hide. Eventually she was joined by one boar, then the other - both with broader shield-shaped heads.

I'm sure they sensed our presence behind the glass, even though their eyesight is poor and we were sitting in darkness. From time to time, one would stop suddenly and look up in our direction, disturbed by a slight noise - their hearing and sense of smell are very acute. But mostly they busied themselves snuffling in the leaf litter for precious peanuts.

One of the boars stood up on his back legs and reached up with his front paws onto a half hollow tree stump directly in front of us. With surprising agility and lightness of movement, he pulled himself onto the stump and spent ten minutes picking nuts out of the hollow with his snout and claws. Somehow he looked very pleased with himself.

As the darkness thickened, the badgers made a final sweep of the area for any overlooked nuts, then trotted off into the woodland for their nightly forage. What a privilege to watch them from a front row seat. We retired to the pub over the road and ordered a round of Badger ale.

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