Big thank you from

Badgers have been much maligned

by Paul Cormacain

So after talking about butterflies last week, a phone call from Dunmurry sent us to that area to look for a small tortoiseshell. We found one, but it nearly too late.

The small tortoiseshell lives on the common nettle and small nettle. Such poor taste for such a lovely creature.

It can be seen in any habitat, from mountain summits above 1,000 metres, to city centres, and our particular one was in a car park in Dunmurry. Depending on the weather, the small tortoiseshell may have different numbers of broods per year. In most parts of Britain and Ireland there are two broods, usually late June or July, followed by a second one in late August. In Scotland, there tends to be only one brood annually.

In the north of England, if the weather is inclement, there is a good chance that there will be only one brood. In Southern Ireland and Southern England, if the weather is very good, there could well be three broods. Such variety!

A car park in Dunmurry seemed to be a good a spot as any for the small tortoiseshell. The one we saw was unfortunately on its last legs, or its last wings! We do not know what the problem was, but as we watched, the poor creature was giving its last few flickers of life, and then died before our very eyes.

So then we had to go badger sighting. Mary in Dunmurry, I won't say where exactly, reported a badger in her garden. This animal was very uncooperative, for it tends to put in an appearance at 5 in the morning. We could not reach the garden in time, so did not see the creature.

I refreshed my memory on the natural history of the badger, and referred to James Failey, local expert. He is of the opinion that the animal is much maligned, frequently by country folk who may never even have seen one.

One of the badger's 'crimes' is the theft and consumption if chickens. It is Fairley's contention that these thefts can be laid at the feet of the fox Then there are some who would say that the badger is a predator of lambs. There is no evidence of this, says Fairley, and again it is the fox who is the culprit. If a badger finds a dead lamb, chances are that it will east part of it, but this is a long way from saying that it killed the lamb.

Fairley points out that it has always been popular to malign the badger. One of the past great naturalists was Arthur Stringer, who was huntsman to a guy called Conway nearly three centuries ago. Perhaps the truth is that Conway influenced Stringer's writing.

Stringer said that the best thing to do with a badger was to let the dogs at it. If it represented a danger to the dogs, why the best thing to do was put a muzzle on the badger so that he could not fight back.

Fairley poses the question, 'How much of a nuisance is the badger?'

Studies in Britain, and his own studies, suggest that the killing of poultry by badgers is virtually non-existent, and the culprit is the fox Evidence of lamb-killing by badgers is practically non-existent, although badgers may well consume ovine carrion on occasion, including dead lambs.

He also reckons that the damage done to game birds by badgers is also probably small. One of the largest game-bird raisers in England said 'the normal badger is an asset to the countryside and should be left in peace.' If only he was not such an early riser!

Coming events

Ulster Museum - Until May 3. Dino birds, feathered fossils from China, a display of rare fossils from China which throws some light in the origin of birds.

March 14 - Guided birdwatching for beginners and family at Quoile Countryside Centre. More from 4461 5520.

Saturday March 20- Spring Fair at Roe Valley County Park, with owls, hawks and falcon displays. Information from 7776 7532.

Monday March 29 - Anthony McGeehan tells us about our native seabirds in Belfast Harbour, at RSPB viewpoint at 7pm. More from RSPB on 9049 1547.

Saturday April 3 - Julian Greenwood talks about Black guillemots at Belfast RSPB meeting. Details from Ron Houston on 9079 6188.

Ulster Star