The Summer Of The Badger
A controversial but undeniably photogenic creature.
As a conservationist/wildlife photographer and someone who works closely with many farmers in the Peak District I have followed the ebb and flow of the controversial debate about badger culling and TB in cattle with deep interest. Like many people, I had hoped that the problem was confined to the south-west of the UK but it appears that this is not so. There have been outbreaks of TB among a few herds of cattle in Derbyshire and the Government's recent report in October 2007, which calls for a systematic and possibly widespread cull, is alarming. There is no doubt that badgers do carry TB and most authorities accept that badgers can pass it to cattle. The debate really centres around the premise that culling badgers will stop cattle contracting TB. The NFU and now Sir David King, the Government's chief scientist, firmly believe that the solution is to cull badgers. The ISG (Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB) and many conservation bodies oppose this premise and claim that an actual cull will probably make the TB situation worse and at best will have a minimal effect. They suggest that more stringent controls on cattle movement are more likely to reduce TB. To cap it all, a DEFRA consultation suggests that public opinion is firmly against a cull. Opposing this is the amount of compensation paid to farmers whose herds have contracted TB, �40 million out of a total of �90 million spent on TB in cattle last year alone. Any cull could happen in two ways, either a large scale cull over an area of about 116 square miles or more focussed culls in smaller contained areas, for example areas bordered by rivers that restrict badger movement. To date a number of test culls have occurred and the results are certainly not totally clear. We wait with baited breath the Government's decision and, particularly from a local perspective the impact on our badgers. The revelations from the government arising from the cull last October are in stark contrast with the time I spent over the last two summers working and learning about the lives of an extended family of badgers in Derbyshire. Photographing badgers is never easy and a lot of preparatory time is needed before the first shutter is fired. There are many badger setts in Derbyshire, indeed badger numbers are fairly good in most areas and certainly in the area I know best in the north-east of the county. The first hurdle is to find a badger sett that is photographable and to secure the farmers permission. I use a lot of flash photography and have found from past experience that it is best to let all the locals and the police know what I am up to. I well remember the time a few years ago when I was 30 feet up a tree in a hide photographing long-eared owls at the nest in a deserted lonely wood in the dead of night and a policeman suddenly appeared at the foot of the tree, politely asking what I was doing! Badgers have poor eyesight so I don't usually have many problems with them seeing me. However, their senses of smell and hearing are both very acute, so I always wear the same clothes to let them get used to my smell. With time spent near the sett each night the badgers slowly get used to my presence. The youngsters are far more confiding than the adults and quickly come to appreciate a handful of peanuts spread around the area. A golden rule in wildlife watching is to never let an animal become habituated or dependent on you. This means that I only allow each badger a few peanuts per night - the rest of the time they feed naturally - so that if I stop going to the sett they will carry on with their lives normally. During the summer I was very keen to get a number of images that were different. The two I most wanted were a badger looking down a hollow log and one feeding on natural fruits like elderberries and blackberries. I also noticed that a couple of the badgers liked to climb lo;