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Pony near Hampton Ridge
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Badger watching

A badger emerges from its sett
A badger emerges from its sett

Badger watching is an incredibly relaxing way of spending a spring or summer evening. Indeed, badger watching at a sett deep in the woods is an engrossing experience, particularly when cubs are about.

And whilst watching badgers, there’s always a chance, of course, of seeing fox and deer, and sharing the evening with woodcocks, owls and nightjars.

In fact, everybody with the slightest interest in natural history should at least once in a lifetime spend an evening watching badgers.

Watchers, though, to be successful, should exercise great care, for these are wary creatures.

Badger eyesight is relatively poor and, oddly, does not seem to be particularly well-adapted for night vision – it’s not unusual for badgers to come within a few feet of a stationary, silent observer standing downwind of them.

But badger hearing is excellent. Sudden, unexpected sounds will always cause alarm. A twig cracking, a whispered voice, even the sudden cry of a green woodpecker is likely to result in an immediate bolt for the safety of the sett.

And as would be expected, the badger’s sense of smell is outstanding. Indeed, the first animal to emerge from the sett will often scent the air, lifting its snout first one way then the other, testing for danger before going back underground prior to the main emergence of other family members. Then once above ground, unexpected aromas carried on the breeze will inevitably cause a dash for the sett.

To obtain good views of badgers without causing disturbance, watchers should be in position by the sett well before dusk; should remain downwind; be dressed in sober-coloured, rustle-free clothing; be quiet; still; and not too close to the action.

And just as importantly, after badger watching has finished, the area of the sett should be left with as much care as was taken on arrival – imagine a badger quietly going about its business, only to witness in the dusk an explosion of noise and movement just outside its front door. Scary? I should say so.

Experience the simple pleasures associated
with New Forest badger watching, courtesy of Doug
Hounsome who provided this fascinating footage

Please remember, too, that the welfare of the Badgers is paramount, and far more important than ‘getting a better view’. Indeed, badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which makes it illegal to kill, injure or take badgers or to interfere with a sett. (Interference with a sett includes blocking tunnels or damaging the sett in any way).

Members of the New Forest Badger Group have been watching and studying badgers in the New Forest since 1969, and always welcome new members. Further details are available on their web site - New Forest Badger Group.

Further information and a variety of fascinating badger videos

Badgers - a general introduction
Badger field signs - look out for evidence of badger presence in the countryside
Badger watching - a guide to watching badgers
Badger behaviour - an introduction to a series of badger behaviour videos, mostly shot in the New Forest, and lots more information about badgers
Badger's setts - situation, size, tunnelling and excavation (videos)
Emergence from the sett - times of emergence and factors influencing variation (videos)
Grooming and mutual grooming - badgers grooming themselves and each other (videos)
Scent marking - badgers scent marking their nearest and dearest, and also their territory (videos)
Badger bedding - essential comfort for a good day's sleep (videos)
Play fighting amongst the cubs - high jinks by the sett, but also preparation for later life (videos)
Badger fights / badgers fighting - potentially vicious affairs (videos)
Badgers and foxes together - an often uncomfortable relationship (videos)
Disturbance at badger setts - by people, cats, dogs and passing foxes (videos)
Other animals in the sett, and animal passers-by - shared living space, rabbits, mice, deer, ponies and more (videos)

References:
The Natural History of Badgers, Ernest Neal
Badgers: Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman
Darkness Is Light Enough: Chris Ferris
Out of the Darkness: Chris Ferris
Eileen Soper's Badgers
Mammals of Britain and Europe: David Macdonald and Priscilla Barrett

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** New Forest ponies and other animals**
The New Forest
Commoners' ponies, cattle, pigs, sheep and donkeys are a popular part of the New Forest scene, but during 2019 agisters attended 159 road traffic accidents involving these animals, a small but disappointing increase on the 154 accidents attended in 2018.

Sadly, 58 animals were killed - 35 ponies, 13 cows, 8 donkeys and 2 sheep, whilst a further 32 were injured - 3 pigs, 9 donkeys, 11 cows and 9 ponies.

(Forty-three accidents occurred in daylight, 15 at twilight and 101 in the dark. Twenty-seven accidents were not reported by the driver involved).

Here's just one horrific example - Three donkeys killed in collision with van at notorious New Forest blackspot (Advertiser and Times)
** Always take care when driving **
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley