Most of us spend a lot of time scrutinising our gardens or the countryside we habitually walk through: we generally know the creatures we are likely to see there. Night-time is a different matter. Neat fox footprints in the snow in winter, the scatter of a hedgehog’s cylindrical droppings in the summer or the sudden flashing on and off of a security light give us only an inkling of all the traffic that passes through, the rich encounters that occur in this familiar territory.
All this is changing. Several members of my family now have night-vision cameras. Once only to be seen on exotic wildlife films on television, relatively cheap, easy to use camera traps which take motion-activated stills or even short videos are now readily available. Our nephew who has a small-holding near Kendal has one. On his land he has a badger sett and, recently, two large holes appeared in a hedgerow about 300 metres from this, so probably not (yet) an integral part of it. He set up the camera to record any comings or goings and sent me the results. On the same night, only three or four hours apart, first a large badger and then a rather wary fox were caught sniffing/ possibly entering the hole. Question from Robbie to me: do badgers and foxes ever share a home? Answer: surprisingly, yes – and I have seen this at three separate sites.
Both animals den and rear their young in burrows. Badgers are expert diggers and great home-improvers. Over the decades, they extend tunnels and hollow out chambers – many more than the resident clan needs at any one time. It’s quite well documented that a vixen will move in to an unused wing, often with cubs. Some lucky watchers have actually seen fox and badger cubs playing together, though the adults are more uneasy with contact. My best sighting was in a large, very ancient woodland sett near Bolton Abbey. I knew it well and could usually be sure of seeing several adult badgers and, in the season, cubs too. However, one year the main area was taken over by two vixens (probably closely related), and their litters of cubs. My sister and I watched entranced as the cubs chased and romped in and out of the many entrances. We counted eleven though there were probably more. In subsequent visits I saw only one badger, an elderly boar. Who emerged early from a side hole and set off foraging. To me he looked rather disgruntled but he hung on!