Almost a year ago I was walking one afternoon in the water meadow when the dogs suddenly shot off towards a boggy area thick with reeds. The badger family galloped with surprising speed back under the fence and into their sett – a row of holes not unlike terraced houses at a rise in the hedgerow.
I was surprised to see them and not a little worried. About 2 years ago we had an adolescent badger take up residence in our paddock. While it was amazing to meet one at such close proximity, we soon realised it was only because it was very unwell. Bluebottles circled like vultures in the desert sun. At one point it climbed up about 4 feet into a tree. Every morning there were more mysterious ‘crop circle’ patterns in the grass – was it where the young badger was trying to get comfortable? We tried contacting several ‘wildlife rescue’ groups and had no joy. So I rang the vet, who said, “A badger out and about during the day? It MUST have TB: they are normally strictly nocturnal.” She said she’d come and have a look but it died just before she arrived.
So was this a normal outing of a healthy family? Given that the farm they were on is on the most high risk of TB list I was concerned.
Bovine TB has not been in badgers forever. In fact, it was first observed in badgers in only about 65 years ago, in 1951 in Switzerland. Badgers were believed to have contracted it from chamois (Rupicarpa rupicarpa) or roe deer(Capreolus capreolus). It was not detected in the United Kingdom until 1971 where it was linked to an outbreak of bovine TB in cows.
The story of bovine TB in the UK has been beset with bad judgement and wishful thinking from various directions. Recent evidence indicates that the government’s decisions following the foot and mouth disease outbreak caused a quantum shift increase in the spread of bovine TB: confident they had it under control and keen to help farmers get back on their feet, the government relaxed restrictions to enable restocking.
Meanwhile our local badger colony looks like it will soon be growing. Walking through the meadow last week I saw a trail of reed-hay from the reed bed to one of the row of homes in Badger Terrace. Wiki tells me that the young are born around January so it looks like Mr and Mrs are doing the badger version of decorating the Nursery. Let us hope and pray that both parents are healthy, and that they rear healthy offspring, free of TB.