Rachel, who manages our sawmill, found a hedgehog curled up under some logs last week. Rowan, our secretary, remembers seeing one cross the road last year. Andrew remembers his dog disturbing one at the farm. So there are some still about, but most of our gang here at the hall cannot recall the last time we saw one.
A recent report from two national societies attributes their decline to loss of habitat. That makes no sense round here. There are more, not less, hedges than there were thirty years ago, and thousands of acres have been planted with trees. Headlands are left unploughed, and ‘link woods’ connect one sanctuary to another. Talk to any countryman he’ll tell you it’s the badgers.
I am not a very observant countryman, but I’m aware that we are seeing badger activity where we never saw it before. There are setts in all our woods. I see dead badgers by the roadside instead of flattened hedgehogs. And I’m told that badgers are responsible for all the excavated wasps nests we are seeing lately. Maybe that’s why we see less wasps at our tearooms.
A couple of things puzzle me in all this. Although they did not have protected status I hadn’t heard that badger numbers were regularly controlled in earlier times. Badger baiting and some gassing – yes, but would that have been enough to prevent the explosion of numbers we are seeing now? My other thought concerns the areas where badgers are now being culled under licence; are hedgehog numbers recovering there?
One thing badgers didn’t have before is an organisation devoted to protecting them. Is that why hedgehog reports run scared of naming them? These single issue campaigners are a reflection of our predominantly urban society. Real countrymen, I’ve found, take a more pragmatic and balanced approach. All wildlife counts for them, but none too much.