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Black and White Army

9th June 2003 - The Guardian

Mark Cocker in Longnor, Staffordshire

Badgers were already visible as we arrived at just eight o'clock in the evening. Initially we felt so honoured to be watching them in broad daylight that we scrutinised a pair's every move through binoculars. But they were soon joined by four, five, eventually six other animals, and as they were so oblivious of our presence, we too relaxed, lay down, hands cupped behind our heads, and simply absorbed the entertainment. Some were already feeding avidly, digging out tiny holes and plucking out the succulent treasures. In fact, all eight badgers looked in fabulous condition, their bodies sleek and their coats noticeably glossy. All the recent wet weather has clearly been as good for them as it has for the worms - their main prey.

One of the animals was focused on enlarging a hole, the orange earth spurting out from between its back legs in large lumps. Another was gathering fresh green bedding, raking it together with those five long claws on each paw. Once it had assembled sufficient material it manipulated the bundle - it has to be said, with some difficulty - on to its chest and vanished backwards down the hole. The others were just playing, scampering back and forth amid a confusion of high, whickering calls. As they move, badgers create a low, heavy arc, with the apex about mid-body and each end drooping heavily as if fused to the earth. It looks cumbersome and badgers normally proceed in a rather comical rolling trot, but tonight they seemed almost to be prancing with excitement. It was a delightful scene and we enjoyed them until the sun had long sunk behind surrounding hills.

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