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'Crimes' of much-maligned badger overstated

by Paul Cormacain

A CERTAIN David works on a golf course in Co Antrim. We got into conversation the other day and he started to talk about badgers. The conversation became fascinating!

Probably most of us see foxes and badgers from time to time, usually at night along quiet country roads. When you look at the dead badgers on the roadside you then begin to realise that the animals do not restrict themselves to the lesser roads, but are liable to be seen on any road. They are more liable to be killed on the busier ones.

A rabbit turned up in a field where I was walking last week, and the thought occurred that rabbits are less common than they used to be. Then I was talking to a group of golfers who had just played golf at Toin Gaoith, in Co Down, and they started to tell me about the animals, and birds they had sighted there. So then I thought, "animals are making a comeback".

The animals on David's course were four young and one adult badger. An impressive sight. There was one small problem, to see them you would need to be there before six am. Must make a New Year's Resolution! Sadly, the badger is a maligned animal. Some folk even bad-mouth them without ever having seen one. The badger commits many crimes, they say, and that broad speculation seems fine because the people who specify the crimes seem to know what they are talking about. But then you get down to the `fine print', and find that the folk making anti-badger claims have not seen them doing anything naughty, and as mentioned may not even have seen a badger before.

According to local expert, James Fairley, the `crimes' of the badger may well be the result of foxes misbehaving, and frequently the `crimes' are the result "of an overactive imagination". Fairley quotes an Arthur Stringer, reputed to be a knowledgeable huntsman who worked on the shores of Lough Neagh, and Stringer was contemptuous of badgers. Stringer is reported to know much about wildlife, and he was so clever that he said that when a badger is dug out of his hole, "the greatest use he is for is to kill him with hounds or mastiffs". And that was an expert and a wildlife lover. Some expert! Some animal lover!

Badgers dig deep setts, which are a series of interconnecting burrows at different levels, which have a tendency to be enlarged. Some end up quite large indeed. Jimmy Deane, who used to write this column, tells of coming across a sett with 35 entrances. Imagine having 35 doors to get into your house. One of the naughty things done by badgers, albeit unintentionally, was recorded by Jimmy. He told of a sett under a road in Co Down, and so extensive did the sett become that one day the surface of the road collapsed when a lorry was driving over it.

On David's golf course, the young badgers were being fed, and also being trained to tend for themselves in the future. Their diet does not seem to be such as would appeal to humans, with one of the first creatures on their menus being worms. They will also eat carrion, and try young rabbits, birds, mice, slugs and snails, things which us humans seem to leave alone!

The golfers did not sight any badgers in Co Down. But otherwise their wildlife sightings were very fruitful. A pair of pheasants appeared. These lovely birds seem to favour golf courses, and many of my sightings in the last few years have been on courses. The peace and quiet, the scarcity of humans, the presence of trees and undergrowth, these all seem to appeal to the birds.

Then a red squirrel was sighted scurrying across a green. These animals may be common enough, but it is usually much easier to see a grey squirrel than a red. The latter are more self effacing, or you could say that greys are much more cheeky.

Ulster Star