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Much of what you are about to read, stems from an idea that one of my good friend’s, John Tinning of The Leicestershire Badger Group planted in my mind many moons ago. He wanted to accustom his badgers to his presence so that he all but became a part of their family! We agreed that feeding would probably be the answer to making badgers more agreeable toward us.

As a member of the New Forest Badger Group I have to get permission to photograph badgers from the Forestry Commission and they will inform me that I cannot use flash and I am not allowed to feed New Forest badgers! These limitations are the words that a would-be photographer, doesn't really want to hear.

The particular sett that I am about to describe, although it falls within the constraints of the New Forest NP, is on private land, so these rules do not apply.

   

First time above ground

However, we still had to question whether our actions would be detrimental in any way toward the badgers or their sett? The set is quite large and alongside an old public footpath that has long since lost any form of direction. It is difficult to get to and far from any form of parking. We felt confident that our decision to feed would not be detrimental to our badgers’ welfare. These badgers have a predilection for peanuts, making feeding ideal. Most food was originally put down as I left the set - where my camera bag had been, where I had sat and over the areas I had walked or watched from. This was not so much to mask my smell but for them to associate me and my smell with peanuts.

Talking of smell, six cubs less than a metre away from you can, ‘pong’ quite strongly. This set has cubs that emerge from about six in the evening on their own, in summer – something I have never come across before. The set consists of six cubs - four yearlings and two, from this year (2010)

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The Boar hates me, the Sow tolerates me but the cubs, especially this year’s cubs, now treat me as part of the furniture. From an early age, not long after they had probably first emerged, I started following these two younger cubs as they foraged. This is something I had never considered before. I was trying to work out what they were feeding on, using those massive claws to dig roots out. Eventually they would come right up alongside me. If they found themselves in front of a pair boots they would jump back in surprise but within a few seconds they would be back, alongside me again. I have managed to lie on my side and photograph them. I tried talking to them but they reacted by going back down the set fast. However, they now accept my conversations, tho’ sadly, I rarely get an answer! Talking tends to stop them in their tracks, which of course is a benefit. I have never found that they look up when they are close to me. I wear a balaclava and gloves to prevent any light or bright areas to be on show.

There is a chap who controls the local Foxes and vermin. He is aware we are often at the sett and the entrances, of which there are about twenty, are spread over about a two hundred metre stretch on two banks, so obviously he is aware of the badgers but as he has no idea if we are there, or where we are, the badgers are left alone. Originally, the land was owned by two farms with a barrier strip of land between the two, barbed wire on either side the path which is about twenty metres wide, dipping down into a hollow which has become a general dumping ground over time, but is still ideal for badgers to forage and move around in!

My last three visits have produced only one young badger who is now out rather late at night. It is nearing the end of the season with an abundance of natural foodstuff. Which means there is now so much food for them they can probably feed up within a few hours. They are giving the crop of sweet-corn alongside the set-a very hard time.

I am looking forward to next year. I just hope they remember me, or at least what I smell like! Did I say earlier that the sett site has to be kept secret? I have no intention of telling you the name of my accomplice but offered a few drinks he may just give up the secret location!

Louis Rumis

Photographer’s notes:
I have tried a variety of lenses, ISO’s and shutter speeds. Best for me was the Canon 7D with an 85mm X 1:8 canon lens-as I lose the light I up the ISO. The biggest problem was thelack of dof. (depth of field) I built a little flash unit, an old simple standard flashgun that I added a piece of plumber’s white waste pipe to, about 50mm long, Araldited to the flash like a snout (snoot). This I covered in camouflaged tape and then a large tissue was pushed inside to diffuse the light. Flash output is easily changed by stops of half stops, by the amount of tissue! This being a digital camera-simple on site tests can be made by checking your histogram. The camera doesn’t recognise that there is a bog standard flashgun on there is no need for shutter speed changes and if diffused correctly, this gives a nice catchlight in the badger’s eye. The badgers were used to flash within three or four flashes and copious amounts of peanuts! This flashgun works for many other subjects as well, from Nuthatches to Seals - trust me. I always keep one of these in my camera bag. No deodorant, after shave or even strong soap and I did go without midge repellent-after going nearly insane I resorted back to it!

   
   

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