Trials & Tribulations Of Badger Watching

I had the privilege of starting to watch badgers when the foot & mouth scare was lifted in the New Forest. (2001). As we approached the area of where we walk to the sett, we were met by two beautiful little black and white furry cubs, ah! comes and came to mind immediately. I was hooked. Since then I have been watching badgers at their setts now for nine years, and I am delighted every time they emerge. We now take seats to sit on and watch, bags of flour to gauge the wind direction, and the dreaded mossie sprays, gloves that cover the hands and go over the wrist to sweaters, long warm socks in which you can tuck your trousers. We now have tropical nets that fit over our hats with small gauge netting so that the little black flies do not get in. Bliss.

I was not so advanced nine years ago. But to tell you a few experiences I will try to relate, sitting quietly – as you do – not breathing, a troop of soldiers marched by and straight over the sett. Disturbance. Sitting quietly again, another year, same place, ponies took objection to us being there and almost charged us, that was frightening. We have had deer wander by before realising we were sitting there, that is nice, even foxes stroll quietly by, but my own personal enjoyment is seeing the cubs come out chittering away and playing, I think you could almost say kittenish with their antics.

Another time we had sat for over an hour and just about to give up and I started to stand got to the half squat half stand position and out popped two of the tiniest cubs we had seen, it must have been their first outing as they stayed so close to mum, a few weeks later we took guests with us to the same sight, and sitting watching we noticed a grey cub lying beside and on the top of the bank of the sett, ooh we are in luck we thought they are up and out already, but to our dismay and heartbreak the cub was dead. The body was retrieved and taken to Martin for an autopsy, the poor little thing had been killed by a dog with one massive jaw and a molar through the cubs skull. Why oh why do dog owners keep their animals on leads when they must know that cubs and fawns are around in spring. Maybe they don’t care.

We have many little tales and will have to save some for future news, so please keep reading our updated website.

Kay Butterworth

Problems With Wind

Problems with Wind by Martin Noble

I should start this piece by clarifying the title. While I do occasionally suffer with flatulence (some might say more than occasionally!), what I mean here is the importance of wind direction when watching our British wildlife and in particular - badgers.
Any of you who have tried watching deer in the New Forest will know that if you fail to stay down-wind of them, the animals will disappear from sight, often well before you get anywhere near them. The secret with deer is, so far as is possible, you should keep the wind in your face while walking towards them - so that the scent comes from them rather than the over way around.

With badgers the same principle applies. However, it is somewhat easier, as you should not be constantly changing position while watching at a sett. The secret here is to ensure that you check the wind direction before you arrive at the sett (in some cases where there is a local wind change you may need to check again as you arrive). You should of course already have visited the sett in the daytime and found a range of potential places to sit which will cover a variety of wind directions. This will enable you to walk straight to your position and make yourself comfortable with a minimum of fuss and be sure that the wind is in your face.

As always there are a few problems with this. Firstly, it may not be possible to find a position from where you can see the part of the sett where you anticipate that the badgers will emerge and still be downwind of the sett. In this case do the best you can, bearing in mind that you will be watching from a point some little distance from the sett and so long as the wind does not blow from you directly over the sett entrance holes then all should be well. If you know which direction the badgers are likely to depart from the sett then try to ensure that you are downwind of that area as well, otherwise they will either return directly to the sett as soon as they pick up your scent or else will depart very quickly in the opposite direction. Either way you will not see them for very long.
Other potential problems are that very often around dusk, i.e. the time when the badgers are likely to emerge, the wind can become light, or sometimes non-existent. This is when you are glad that you checked the wind direction before you arrived at the sett so that you don’t need to re-check when the badgers are about to emerge. This is also the time when the midges appear so you will be glad that you remembered to take precautions against them before you arrived at the sett.

Another problem relates to setts on a slope. Often the best place to watch these setts is when sitting at the bottom of the slope if this enables you to see the holes more clearly. But do remember that under these situations, wind blowing towards you from over the top of the opposite slope will often be funnelled in the opposite direction by an alternative draught blowing up the slope.
This is a factor similar to smoke rising from a fire. The air rising up the chimney will draw more air in from all points of the room and an upward slope acts rather like a chimney in this respect. Of course you can feel this when the wind changes from blowing in your face to when you feel it on the back of your neck. You could then be with the badgers in full view yet unable to change your position. This can happen without warning but you can avoid it by not sitting directly in line with the sett i.e. position yourself looking diagonally across the slope. You may not get quite such good views of the badgers emerging but at least you won’t disturb them.

Sometimes the wind is so slight that it is difficult to tell which direction it is blowing. I expect that we have all seen films of “biggame hunters” who will pick up a handful of dry sand and permit it to trickle through their fingers with the wind causing the sand to blow in a certain direction. This may work well in Africa but you try finding some fine dry sand in the New Forest just when you want it. Some people carry a small container of dry flour or talcum powder which works really well under these circumstances but it is fiddly to use, especially if you are being watched by the badgers at the same time. A trick I discovered many years ago is to lick the back of your hand and then hold your hand vertically, slowly rotating it until you feel the cold effect of the saliva evaporating. It will evaporate quicker and therefore be colder on the side from which the wind is blowing. This of course has the major advantage that you always have a hand and some saliva just when you need them. The only problem arises if a) you have a glove on, in which case you will need to remove it first, or b) if you have had your hands in something unspeakable, in which case you probably wouldn’t want to lick your skin!
Incidentally you can also use your saliva to improve your sense of smell in an emergency. Just lick the back of your hand again (use plenty of saliva this time) and wipe the back of your hand firmly across both nostrils. This will give you a couple of seconds of enhanced odour detection which may assist with the identification of the smell of a plant or some faint wood smoke or a whole range of other possibilities. I learned this from watching fallow deer which, when uncertain about the identification of a particular threat (perhaps you crouching behind a fallen tree), will lick their noses with their tongue. Evidently even their excellent sense of smell can apparently be improved by this procedure. If your tongue is long enough to enable you to do that then consider yourself very fortunate. Most of us mere mortals are unable to achieve this so have to rely on transferring the saliva to our noses via some other method.

Martin Noble
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