by Paul Cormacain
MY good friends Mr and Mrs Broc(k) say that they are related to badgers. The Scottish word for badger is broc, and Lorna and Mark Brock are Scottish. The Irish word for badger is also broc, so if Mark and Lorna ever change their nationality they will have Scottish as well as Irish relatives.
All this surfaced the other day when I told them that I had seen one of their relatives running across the road.
It was late at night, dark, dull and dreary, with no stars or moon but with some ambient light. We were driving along a quiet Country road, with little traffic and few houses, when we espied a creature in the distance.
We slowed down, not wanting to scare him off, and approached. Maybe he was only out for a wee dander or just wanted to get from one field to another. So he crossed the road.
Why did the badger cross the road? To get to the fresh food in the next field, of course.
And what does this fresh food consist of? Why, it consists of a delightful mixture of worms, slugs, snails, insects, dead birds or animals, fruit, seeds and fungi.
A baby bird fallen out of a nest would be fair game as well. So here we have an animal which has a very broadly based diet, and who lives a very healthy life.
Badgers die of old age, or they die if they have an argument with a car, or they die if a person shoots them, or they die if a person sends down enough dogs to kill them.
There is a bad press from a small number of people concerning badgers. This business of them spreading bovine TB is a load of rubbish, for does not the badger get this disease from cattle,-and not the other way around?
Bovine tuberculosis does happen to some badgers, but it also occurs in some other animals, which do not get blamed for passing on the disease. One possibility of course, is that there may be a common source of the disease that affects both cows and badgers.
In 1978 a sample of 197 badgers was obtained from three areas in Northern Ireland.
In some areas from whence the badgers emanated there was bovine tuberculosis in some cattle. The badgers were checked out and bovine TB was isolated from 18 of the badgers, and other strains of the disease from 4 of them.
In no area was there a correlation between the presence of TB in cattle, and TB in badgers.
Some folk would have you believe that badgers kill fowl. Stoats can be quite ruthless, and are more than capable of killing a chicken, or chickens, for they may slaughter more than they can eat.
The mink, reasonably common, can also be a ruthless killer, and of course the fox would just love to go for his holidays into a well-filled chicken run.
Local expert James Fairley tells us that his own studies reveal that the killing of poultry by badgers is at least, an uncommon occurrence, and that the fox is the culprit in most suspected cases.
The odd person perpetuates the myth that badgers kill lambs and sheep. And they would be odd, because they would never have witnessed such a thing, and they would be talking through their hat.
It is true that badgers will occasionally eat lambs or sheep, but only dead ones that they would find in the hills. There is no evidence of lamb-killing, according to James Fairley.
The damage done by badgers to game birds is probably quite small. On a research centre run by gun manufacturers, a total of 3,133 partridge nests were located in one year. Of these a mere one per cent were the subject of badger predation, with eggs or young attacked.
The gun brigade, not renowned for a passion of wildlife, had very interesting things to say about the badger, and this bears repeating.
It said, "Badgers are not usually harmful to game interests, though on one occasion we lost 18 known partridge nests to one rogue animal. The normal badger is an asset to the countryside, and should be left in peace."
So let us cherish our badgers and think only good of them. Let us be good to badgers, and their human relatives!
Each Saturday and Sunday in August - Guided tours at Castle Espie, 2.30, details from 91874146
Each day in August - Pondamonium, finding out about our water creatures, for example the -creatures, which feed the ducks at Castle Espie, who will tell you more if you phone 9187 4146.
Each Sunday in August - Boat trip from Maghary Country Park to Coney Island, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm, phone Oxford Island on 3832 2205.
Saturday 12 August - 'Tails' from an animal sanctuary, at Castle Espie; 2pm; more from 9187 4146.
Monday 12 to Friday 16 August - Monday 19 to Friday 23 August - Children's Wildlife Summer School, Oxford Island, 2.30, call 3832 2205.
Sunday 18 August - Have a look for grayling, silver-washed and dark green fritillaries, at 10.30, Belfast Hills, starting Belfast Castle car park. Contact Butterfly Conservation on 90775317
Thursday 29 August - Bat night at Colin Glen Forest Park, 9pm, details 9061 4115
Saturday 31 August - Butterfly search in east Antrim, at 10.30 - 9335 5565