Our nephew, who lives on a smallholding near Kendal, thinks me an expert on badgers. Indeed, after over forty-five years studying and observing them, I do pride myself on my knowledge of these sociable mustalids. However, any study of wild life always leads to more questions – and the occasional complete mystery. His questions always seem to lead to the latter.
When he took over the smallholding there was already a badger sett in one of the hedges, probably an outlier used occasionally. Since he planted 6,500 trees, bringing a wood to their doorstep, it’s become prime badger real estate with a resident clan given to mysterious behaviours! Some months ago he sent me photos of two of the sett entrances entirely stoppered with thick wads of grass. Why? Was it defensive? Badgers have no wild predators and can, should they wish, quickly seal an entrance with soil – leaving plenty more ways in to what must now be a considerable labyrinth of tunnels and chambers. They are scrupulous housekeepers though, and constantly bring in changes of bedding – sometimes humping great balls of grass and ferns for considerable distances to secure the choicest materials. Sometimes, after a busy night’s hauling, they get fed up, tired or bored and abandon their load. Still – this doesn’t really explain the bulky corking effect Robert described. My hypothesis seemed rather thin.
Now it’s happened again! He sent me an email – humorous but, I suspect, with an edge – and a photo of heaps of plum stones lying on grass. A plum thief is at work in his orchard. Could it be those “pesky critters” again? Well, probably. Badgers love soft fruit – blackberries, elderberries, raspberries and, if they can get them, plums. Currently their main aim is to pile on as much weight as possible ready for winter. They don’t hibernate like hedgehogs but they do reduce their foraging activities and may be forced to remain underground for several nights if the weather is bad. Ripe fruit with its high sugar content is, in their view, ideal!
What puzzles me is the collection of neatly cleaned stones. Badgers are not delicate eaters – they don’t neatly spit out the stones. One of the ways I knew badgers had been eating my neighbour’s windfall plums was finding lots of stones in a dung pit by our shared hedge. Perhaps Cumbrian badgers have more elegant manners. It’s just another mystery.