For the past few years we have been regularly visited by badgers: they come to the old Orchard, originally for the Victoria Plums which had fallen under the tree. We began to feed them once the plum supply dried up and both they, and we, have continued the relationship ever since.
The family groups are always clearly defined: each year we get Mum, Dad and several youngsters, and sometimes a lone, presumably, male badger eating by himself once the others have left. When Mum is nursing very young badgers there are usually a few weeks with almost no visitors, and then the family comes all together, with lots of play from the babies. They all make the most disgracefully loud eating sounds, snuffling, gobbling and chewing peanuts, flaked maize and poultry pellets.
However this winter we have noticed a change in badger habits. They are definitely working shifts: we get at least three, sometimes, four shifts of badgers.
Often a small, lone badger will come first, then a couple, and later one or two single very large badgers.
Even in the most snowy times they come, leaving tell-tale footprints along the paths, and lie in the snow to eat, protected by their thick pelts. It is making life very difficult for us!
It is time to feed the ponies, but we can’t go out because there is an early shift of badgers eating; it is time to walk the dogs, but we can’t go out because there is the next shift eating; time to shut the ponies up for the night, can’t go out. . . . . ; time for the late night dog walk, can’t go out.
The younger ones always scuffle away, sometimes hiding in the undergrowth to return a few minutes later, sometimes too timid to risk coming back. Then we feel dreadful fearing that our actions have deprived a hungry, young badger of its much needed supper. Even after all this time they are still not tame enough to put up with our comings and goings – yet we hear of other people who can go and sit outside, (in summer!) while ‘their’ badgers continue quietly eating.
One lady in our valley puts out peanut butter- sandwiches for her family visits, but we have not gone ‘Michelin Star’ I’m afraid!
We feel very privileged to be able to look out of our window in the evening and see, only a few feet away, such large and attractive wild animals coming voluntarily to our garden to feed. But the grass, even rough orchard grass, is beginning to look like the Somme, after a winter of large, heavy bodies lying taking their ease, while they leisurely eat their evening meal. And of course, they have to scrape every last scrap up, with efficient noses turning the soil into mud-pan. Never mind, we wouldn’t have it any other way.