Wildlife detectives

It’s a cold and cloudy morning with short outbursts of rain. Our group is preparing to set out to the forest. Everyone is excited because today…. we will learn how to find badger setts.

Following several minutes of ice-breaking chats and some useful facts about badger ecology, it’s time to set off. Our trainer, Abbie Patterson, is leading us along some pretty muddy paths.

Muddy but enjoying ourselves

Muddy but enjoying ourselves

On our way we stop to investigate various tracks and paths. We meet passersby and dog walkers who don’t suspect what we are up to. It feels great!

Abbie takes us to the first sett. We explore the area, count the holes, look at scratched trees and search for badger hair and latrines. Each and every one of us feels like a detective. Abbie shows us the paths around the sett and the breathing holes coming out of the tunnels.

Evidence

Evidence

Suddenly, a German Shepherd is running towards the sett sniffing around. I see Abbie tense. I’m not surprised. Since 2010, the Scottish Badgers organisation has recorded about 200 occasions of badger baiting (1). Unfortunately some people take pleasure from seeing badgers being ripped apart by dogs… Abbie, as a member of the Scottish Badgers, is always on a look out for signs of badger baiting.

In the end, the dog turned out to just wander off the path. What a relief!

After showing us both occupied and non-active setts, we were put to the ultimate test. We had to find a badger sett on our own, without splitting the group. Abbie took us to a place from which numerous paths were going away in all directions. It was a fantastic experience to put ourselves into the “badgers’ shoes” and imagine where they would prefer to walk. In the end, we found the sett with great self satisfaction.

Success!

Success!

The course provided us with a great opportunity to learn field identification skills. The participants had a fantastic time and provided great feedback. The important part is that students recognize the growing skills gap, as not enough graduates leave university with field identification skills, and are keen to do something about it.

This course took place three times during the ILW but if you didn’t manage to get a place or would like to practice newly-gained skills, don’t be afraid to approach the Scottish Badgers (http://www.scottishbadgers.org.uk/) who are usually keen to take people along for their surveys.

1. http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/revealed-boom-in-badger-baiting-in-scotland-1-3242142

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