Smoking of badger hams

A badger.
A badger.

AS a wild young teenager, I did once attend a badger dig in Devon and wrote of the experience in my book, The Dawn is My Brother, which Faber and Faber published. I think the Devon farmers I was with actually ate the beast, having an old recipe that involved smoking the hams after hanging. The hams were once a delicacy with our ancestors after all.

I was not particularly impressed with the activity and never went to another but had taken my father’s advice to witness as much as possible in life. He could not after all have written Tarka the Otter without attending several otter hunts first.

With so many badgers in the landscape today I had rather foolishly thought that badger digging was a thing of the past but a recent Radio 3 broadcast on iconic British animals told me differently. Apparently 15,000 badgers are today dug out using terriers as trackers every year. Of course this is illegal but I suppose who is to know in many cases in wild country.

The writer also claimed that 50,000 badgers are killed annually on the roads each year. That I can easily believe. Last year on a single journey I made to Devon from Sussex, I counted 23 dead badgers in May alongside the roads.

This shows that the total population in the UK must be somewhere near the million mark,

For the very first time the badger has almost no enemy. For millennia it has hunted for food but suddenly after the 1973 Act it expanded at the same kind of rate, which now gives us two million deer. The Radio 3 writer defended the badger’s right to unmolested life and blamed the free movement of cattle around the farms as the main causes of Bovine TB.

She did not mention at all another aspect of the badger’s freedom to expand but it does make questions for me. The animal lives by carefully trundling through the countryside with a hoover on its head. This photograph shows how little notice one took of me as I watched it for an hour in Sussex. It was after insects. But it efficiently eats bumblebee nests too.

These, insects vital to our crops by pollination, have started to disappear in recent years. Could the badger be to blame?

Ground nesting birds such as woodcock, tree pipit, wood warbler, willow warbler, yellow hammer, corn bunting, partridge have all declined on my patches which I have carefully monitored for the past 40 years.

Is there a connection? We all know the badger lives mainly on earthworms and berries, sweetcorn and woodlice etc, but it would not turn up its nose at the more delicious protein luxuries such as eggs and young, and the fat grubs of bumblebees and their honey pots.