Badgers

It may surprise some people to know that badgers are first cousins to otters, polecats, weasels, ferrets and mink.

The species we know in this country is the European Badger, one of the largest of the family Mustelidae and an animal of considerable strength and tenacity.

They have short, fat bodies about the same size as a collie dog, and short, powerful legs adapted for digging.

They like to root around in the earth with their noses like pigs and this has given  rise to their Welsh name mochyn daear (earth pig), or broch from which their English nick-name Brock has derived.

They are attractive creatures with their long, grey backs and white faces and cheeks divided by long black stripes which pass from behind their ears, over their eyes to their snouts. But they are not seen often unless observers make the effort to go out in the dark near a badger sett, for they are shy, nocturnal creatures. They often show up suddenly at night in the headlights of a car, and road kill is a frequent occurrence as they don’t move very fast and seem totally unaware of the danger from traffic. Celebrated in children’s books, films and television perhaps the most famous fictional character is Badger in Kenneth Graham’s ‘The Wind in the Willows.’ City folk believe they are cuddly, harmless creatures, and they are indeed harmless if undisturbed. But country folk are ambivalent as badgers can do a lot of damage by their foraging in fields, gardens and on lawns, and also by their excavation of extensive underground setts, which can undermine field margins, creating deep cavities which can turn a tractor over if they collapse. There is also the arguable role of the badger in spreading tuberculosis among farm cattle whose grazing they share as they wander far from their setts in search of earthworms. grubs, beetles, small mammals, roots, fruit and the eggs of ground-nesting birds. They even like to eat the odd hedgehog, which means that hedgehog populations where badgers are numerous are in decline. Scientists are still divided regarding the tuberculosis theory, but farmers are adamant that there is a strong link and their calls for culling of badgers are at odds with the townsfolk’s somewhat romantic view. Half a century ago badger hunting was legal and, if a farmer felt the population on his farm was getting out of hand he called in the badger teams. Nowadays, of course, badger hunting, especially the cruel ‘sport’ of badger baiting with dogs, is justifiably outlawed and badgers are protected. Certain dogs, including the dachshund in Germany and the Sealyham in Pembrokeshire, were bred specifically for badger hunting. Because of the bovine TB limited official culling took place in the 80s and 90s and further culling was undertaken in 2012 and 2013 in Gloucester and Somerset. Badgers are iconic creatures in this country and it is right they should be protected, but a sensible balance must surely be maintained.

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