In this guest blog published to celebrate Scottish Badger Week, Allan Bantick OBE reflects on 30 years of watching badgers.
If I have learned anything at all about badger-watching, it is that no two nights are the same. You can never be certain in advance what the night will bring, either from the badgers, or other wildlife, or the weather, or even from the people you are with, so you set out every night half expecting the unexpected.
Badgers themselves care little for our frames of mind; they respond in their own way to circumstances. In the main they sensibly shun the company of human beings, but they can become comfortable over time with individual people, such as those who feed badgers in their gardens, and with places, such as wildlife-watching hides where tempting food is provided.
Indeed, much of my own badger-watching has been at the Strathspey Badger Hide which I have managed on behalf of the local wildlife group since we built it 25 years ago. Running the hide has been a great privilege, a learning experience, and enormous fun.
In the early years of trying to see badgers I had a pretty poor success rate but over time that changed, particularly once the badger hide had been open for a few years, so that now I only have blank nights while trying to watch badgers at remote setts on my own, such as during the current lockdown when I’m reduced to visiting a little-known sett within walking distance of my house. Such a restriction is a strong reminder of how fortunate we have been to have had the hide at our disposal for all those years.
A badger-watching session, whether with a group or on your own, usually includes watching other wild species too. With a group at the hide, badgers are almost guaranteed to be seen, but it is also common to see small mammals, brown hares and many small bird species. We sometimes also see pine martens and owls, and on really special nights we might glimpse otters, foxes or ospreys. On the other hand, when watching on your own at rarely visited setts it is a rather different matter because badgers are by no means guaranteed to be seen. However, it is almost unheard of when sitting quietly in any wild place to see no other wildlife at all, even if it is only the ubiquitous Scottish midge.
Then there are the debates. Sitting in the hide with people you have never met while badgers are snacking on peanuts nearby, frequently gives rise to conversations around wildlife issues. Such discussions can get quite heated and political, especially when someone mentions that abominable badger cull, or the horrors of raptor persecution. Furthermore, it is not too different when badger-watching on your own because in the peace and quiet of the countryside you find yourself privately examining your own thoughts and opinions while waiting for something to happen.
Badger watching is almost always a positive experience, even ignoring those midges. A quiet evening spent on your own or with like-minded people, discretely spying on wildlife safely going about its business all around you, feels like an oasis of calm in a troubled world.
There are exceptions, of course. I will not easily forget the night in the hide when a screaming infant caused the badgers to flee and not come back, or the night when an arachnophobic visitor spotted a spider beside her with the same result, or the horrifying night when we saw a badger with a snare around its neck.
If I were asked what the most rewarding experiences of my ‘badgering’ career had been, I would have to say it was those occasions when badgers trusted me enough to quietly browse on the peanuts I had scattered around my feet. It gets no better than that.
Allan is a former chair of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and a Trustee of Scottish Badgers. For added insights into activities at the badger hide and elsewhere it is worth visiting Allan’s YouTube channel.
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In this guest blog published to celebrate Scottish Badger Week, Allan Bantick OBE reflects on 30 years of watching badgers. If I have learned anything at all about badger-watching, it …