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South Yorkshire - A Country Diary

Pete Bowler of The Guardian

Saturday February 3, 2001

Badgers, like many wild mammals, are fastidious creatures. They like to keep their underground homes clean; the bedding fresh and well aired. However, in the midst of winter, it can be something of a wrench to drag yourself out of a warm and snug sett in order to answer a call of nature. It is not surprising therefore, that, at the two setts we- examined this week, the fresh dung pits which help to signify badger activity were about as close to the tunnel entrances as could be decently allowed. Given the harsh, freezing cold nights we have experienced over the past few days you would expect the badgers to spend as little time above ground as possible.

On warmer nights the badgers have been out and about. At each of the two setts it was clear which tunnels are currently in use from the trail of dead leaves and moss leading into them. Unused entrances are also full of dead leaves, but they lie differently, having been blown in by the wind rather than gathered, bundled and dragged.

All along the network of interlocking badger paths which dissect the woods like a lattice, clumps of moss lay discarded, roots and bulbs of woodland flowers lay exposed, some part-eaten and dead branches lying across the path, crushed by heavy jaws. Some Lords and ladies bulbs lay scattered, their early leaves lying limp. We pushed them back into the soil, happy they would recover. In areas of thick moss, snuffle holes reveal where badgers had been nosing deep into the soft cushions in search of worms and other invertebrates.

Although January is one of the months of least activity, both setts showed signs of recent excavations. Here the earth was still loose, as opposed to the hard-packed mounds of orange clay outside the more undisturbed tunnels. Sow badgers will be fully pregnant now, their eggs, fertilised perhaps as early as February last year, not implanted into the uterus wall until December. This allows badgers to mate at any time of year but still give birth in early spring, giving cubs the maximum opportunity to develop and grow before facing the rigours of their first winter.

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