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)
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!
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!