A Reveal of Badgers.
On a dull, warm evening, we walked off the edge of the down and crept into the hanging wood and its badger sett. Without the sun to break through the mixed broadleaf and coniferous canopy, it felt prematurely dark. Behind us, a pheasant release pen of young birds coughed and crowed noisily as they began to ascend the trees to roost.
We sat for a while, watching the evening light illuminate the veins in the big nettle leaves on the wood’s edge with a fresh green glow.
Beyond the badger’s earthworks came the chink and trundle of flints being rolled away and the rumbling of small, toppled chalk nuggets. We scotched closer on our bottoms. A fresh roll of bedding had appeared, laid out in a thick wisp on top of an entrance hole. And then – the shadow play of badgers behind the backlit green screen of nettles. Two. Their backs humped as one dug at a sett entrance and the other hugged out more bedding, backwards, to air.
We stood slowly for a better look. The coughs of the pheasants behind us were separating out into apologies and goodnights when a sudden hurt, furious yowl came from an unseen fox that had tested the pen’s low strand of electrified wire.
A young buzzard came in to land with a whump and a settling of feathers half way up the Norwegian spruce I had my hand on, tacky with resin. Looking up, I could see the scales on its yellow toes, the ruffled creamy breast feathers. This was probably one of the young birds that had fledged from the nest within the pheasant pen – they are welcome, here.
And then two young badgers appeared, nosing through the nettles into the clear, pad-worn space we occupied, pigeon-toed, muzzles intent on the ground. With no wind, we are vulnerable to detection, but if we keep still, it’s unlikely they’ll see us.
An older badger skips deftly out of a hole barred with the parallel rails of beech roots and we are surrounded; but he comes to the place we sat down, sniffs, freezes for a heartbeat, then wheels about and bolts back down its hole.
The two almost-grown cubs are close enough for me to see points of light in their eyes when they look up; their faces seem to float in the gloom, disembodied, the way elderflower heads do on June nights. Then, there is the barely discernible lift of a breeze on the back of our necks, announcing rain we could not see coming. Pattering drops disturb the air enough to beat up a scent of resin and earth for us, and something else for the badgers: they look sharply in our direction, raise their muzzles to snuff and read the air and although they seem to look past us, the game is up. They turn and push back through their curtain of nettles and are gone.