This article and photos was originally written for the West Kent Badger Group website and Newsletter and is not based on Darrick Wood. However, I thought it may be of interest to ‘Friends’ members.
It seems a long time ago now but, following a career as a primary teacher, I went on in the early nineties to obtain a job managing an environmental education centre near Dartford for KCC. It was an old village school built in 1857. One of my responsibilities was to develop a range of habitats for wildlife to inspire visiting Key Stage 1 and 2, (5 – 11 year old) children on a 2 acre site. This included a newly dug out pond which was soon teaming with invertebrates, a small meadow and a tiny wooded area.
In addition to enhancing the site for small wildlife I also had the ambition of building a simple badgers Sett. I mean ‘simple’! I didn’t use plastic piping or build a concrete floor like other badger groups have appeared to produce. My brother and I found a corner of the meadow and dug three channels leading to a couple of bed chambers of which we dug down around 50cm to produce a snug sleeping area.(It seemed so comfortable I even wondered if I could be reincarnated as a badger!) We then covered these channels with large builder’s patio slabs. Then a layer of soil on which grass, Cow Parsley and Stinging nettles later grew. My plan was for the badgers originally to have a basic home which they could then extend (without planning permission!) perhaps downwards or sideways – whatever way that suited them – and they later did. Read on.
My original aim was really to build a ‘release site’ for the West Kent Badger Group to use for perhaps recovering injured badgers into the wild. However, unfortunately (if that is the right word!) local wild badgers apparently like it so much that they moved in a matter of weeks before I had a chance to tell the badger group of my plans.
The following year others moved in so that a family group was formed. ‘Hey presto!’ You can guess what happened next. Three cubs were born and in that April they showed themselves above ground. Cubs were born in most years until I retired seven years ago. With friends and volunteers we were able to have the artificial sett wired up with cameras. We had cameras connected to a digital whiteboard in the main classroom so that we could see when a badger emerged without setting a foot outside. Indeed one clever volunteer managed to enable me, using a password, to watch the badgers from the comfort of my home. There were many occasions when my wife Jane rang me in the centre office often as early as 5.00pm when I was just about to leave to tell me not to come home yet as ‘they’ were out.
Our digital interests lead to fitting cameras in nest boxes, cameras pointing on bird feeders, and a camera looking at the whole site for security, together with, of course cameras over the badgers Sett. All could be seen inside the centre classrooms and from home.
I usually managed to get the badgers to emerge very early by enticing them with peanuts which I threw high over the Sett so they would feel them dropping on the ground above. However, I was always conscience of the fact that perhaps the badgers might have been in danger being out so early. However, there were no dangerous roads nearby and the fenced in centre land was very secure. They invariably went straight back to bed after their treat. I often used the badgers as a tool (excuse) to keep the pupils quiet. Whispering to the children with a finger over my mouth, ‘be quiet, the badgers are sleeping, don’t wake them up’. I was able to show film of the badgers to the visiting class groups, however, later in an evening, the local Cub pack, Scouts, Beavers, Rainbows and Guides etc often saw them live. Local companies, Lions groups and the village society, gave the centre funding for some ‘camera traps’ so we were able to obtain film of the badgers in our absence. Indeed, I often felt we were pioneering some aspects of digital equipment. BBC Natural History Unit ‘eat your heart out’!
Soon I decided that we really needed an outhouse and I thought the simplest and cheapest construction to build was a straw house. However, the only place we could build it was rather too close to the Sett; about forty metres. I managed to get a local farmer to deliver and donate about50 redundant straw bales to the centre. In addition, I bought a number of iron poles and large bricks etc for stability and together with volunteers set about constructing the ‘eco’ building. A number of infant classes carrying out a mini-beast hunt soon also used the straw hut for singing. However, the badgers had other ideas and it wasn’t singing, if you see what I mean. For those who don’t know badgers regularly bring in bedding, perhaps dried leaves and other forms of undergrowth to their Setts. They must have thought Christmas had come early! Soon great piles of straw, which became their bedding, appeared on the Sett taken from the building. Unfortunately we soon had to dismantle the straw hut as it was a safety hazard, not before I had left a camera trap inside the structure and caught one intruder ‘red handed’, or should I say ‘red pawed’! Not one of my best ideas!
The badgers circulated the village at night, probably many of them from ‘my’ sett as I used to have frequent remarks from the locals that ‘my’ badgers had visited their gardens the previous night. I remember many days when I would take a class out to the river or village and hurry past gardens and their front lawns that I had been told about (say no more!)
It seems a long time ago that I/we were in ‘badger heaven’, living the dream.
I often think back to those wonderful days.
Friends of Darrick and Newstead Woods
West Kent Badger Group