Nature Notes

Digger on the hill.

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We go out just before sunset on a glorious day where the sky is swimming-pool blue. A warm breeze provokes whitebeam leaves into light. It is not strong, but it is a portent of the weather to come and enough to turn the wind turbine on the far hill, so I hear it in my head like blood pulsing: whump, whump, whump.

The grass camber between flint wheel tracks is soft underfoot and flows like a stream with feathery silverweed cinquefoil. Away from the menace of the hedgecutter, hawthorn has been allowed to flower in great, clotted-cream waterfalls, alive with all manner of bees, hoverflies, moths and other insects. Its petals polka-dot the nettles.
We three generations of women – mum, my eldest daughter and me – creep along the ride through the woods, lush grass brushing our fingertips as we carefully avoid the snap of dry pine twigs and brittle beech mast. A glimpse of the deep combe below is heavenly, the light casting deep and lovely shadows.

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We reach the centre of the badger sett. Under dappled beech and nettle-light are piles of white chalk rubble. The birdsong is rich and full. We settle to wait.

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The sun is molten on the ridge. Eventually, the light leaves the wood and the birdsong quietens. Blackbirds chip and pink their anxiety to roost and pheasants cough nervously. There is a change in the atmosphere and the wood takes on a grainy, cinematic quality. Very close by, disturbed flints rattle quietly over chalk cobbles and the nettles wag: the badgers are out.

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Half a striped face appears, then disappears. Then above the nettles on a mound of chalk, two sets of ears, like mirrored crescent moons. Another badger emerges from a hole to our right like a silver invisibility cloak; an animated piece of night, silent, grey, long tail sweeping, exquisite dished face concentrating on the ground. To our left, another appears in a last pool of light, its fur beautifully backlit, a smudge of chalk drying on its nose, the pale claws of pigeon-toed paws so long, they almost overlap. We hold our breath. It shifts its head up, down, appraises us and bolts. But does not seem to disturb the others. Right in their midst, we are afforded more views of disembodied badgers – the glint of an eye, a head that seems to float in the gloom, a powerful, silver-grey shoulder pulling a roll of bedding out to air.

Badger, becheur, brock, digger: we are immersed in their world where they are half-seen, mysterious and almost silent; piecing together a jigsaw of badgers, like the shards of a landscape: light, chalk and the night.

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