(Photo by Richard Bowler, used with permission)
Wild wood wanderer,
Druid of old Albion,
Blessings on the Brock.
May our most ancient Briton,
Ever walk our old straight tracks.
Badgers have been present in the British Isles for at least 300,000 years, since before the time of the Neanderthals. Modern humans arrived here only 33,000 years ago.
Badgers live in complex underground burrow systems, known as ‘setts’. Some setts can be centuries old, as can the paths that the badgers follow above ground. Their tunnels and ways thread and weave their way across the land like memory…
Much has been written about the cull of our badgers; a Government led attack which began in the summer of 2013 and is continuing in 2014. Licenses have been issued in spite of an independent panel reporting that, “controlled shooting – shooting of free-running badgers – could not deliver the level of culling needed to bring about a reduction in TB in cattle and was not humane”. In spite of the cull's massive unpopularity with the public (more than 304,000 people signed a petition against it). In spite of Parliament voting against the cull. In spite of evidence that the method of culling used was not only cruel but that it could only serve to spread bovine TB further as badgers, no longer connected to their family clans and ancient landscapes, fled for their lives. In spite of the fact that badgers are protected in the British Isles under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and schedule 6 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act, 1981. In spite of the fact that badgers were declared a ‘species of conservation concern’ in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and are listed under appendix III of the Bern Convention. Moreover, the cull itself cost £7.3 million to organise and to police, a cost of £4,100 per badger. This cost was considered reasonable in spite of the fact that large numbers of vulnerable people are having their benefits cut and some families are surviving only by relying on food banks.
At the Conservative Party Conference in September 2014, the chancellor, George Osborne, stated that, if re-elected, a new Tory Government would cut benefits by a further £12 billion and freeze benefits for 10 million households. None of this seems to make any sense and yet, for me, these attacks on our badgers and on the poor amongst us are not unrelated. In the way of radical honey, I am drawn to the root, to the ideology that lurks beneath so many of our Governments decisions. Badgers are dying. People are dying. The wild, in human and non-human animal, is under attack. One of this Government’s very first acts was an attempt to sell off our forests. The Infrastructure Bill, which exempts fracking companies from trespass laws, also contains a proposal that “any animal species that "is not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state" will be classified as non-native and subject to potential "eradication or control", therefore preventing the re-introduction of extinct native species. George Monbiot comments that, “this a deliberate attempt to pre-empt democratic choice, in the face of rising public enthusiasm for the return of our lost and enchanting wildlife~. As Baroness Parminter, who argued unsuccessfully for changes to the bill, pointed out, “it currently creates a one-way system for biodiversity loss, as once an animal ceases to appear in the wild, it ceases to be native.” (quoted in The Guardian, 21st July 2014). All that is wild, untamed, labelled ‘unproductive’, and vulnerable is being attacked. The poor, the people of the soil, like the badger people, have always been outcast, painted as the villain; we have much in common.
Badgers will eat several hundred earthworms every night but also love to feast on insects, bluebell bulbs, and elderberries.
The name ‘badger’ is thought to derive from the French, ‘bêcheur’ meaning ‘digger’. In Welsh badgers are known as ‘Moch Daear’ or ‘Earth Pig’. Until the 18th Century badgers were known as‘brock’ in England; names that smell of earth.
Badgers are an inconvenience to many landowners. Since its election in 2010, the ConDem Government has again and again brought in laws, or done away with old ones, which protect the land. The presence of badgers, a protected species, holds up planning applications, and badgers interfere with the gaming industry by eating grouse eggs which are being ‘lovingly’ raised for shooting. A lot of money is at stake. The only instance when a badger can be legally ‘removed’ is if it is vital in order to control the spread of disease. With bTB there is evidence that better dairy farming practices, which would lead to stronger, healthier cows, lessens the impact of bTB on dairy herds. Just as the much vilified urban fox comes to show us how much we throw away and waste, so the badger has come to teach us about our unsustainable farming practices. Instead of listening, we attack. There is also evidence that badger vaccination has a vital role to play and does not lead to family groups scattering to other areas. And yet, in its supposed aim to eradicate bTB, the Government continues to insist that culling is the only answer. Of course, were bTB to be truly eradicated, there would be no excuse to legally remove badgers from land when planning permission was being sought and that would indeed be inconvenient.
(Photo by Richard Bowler, used with permission)
Badgers are incredibly clean and tidy their sleeping chambers by dragging old hay, grass, and bracken outside tucked under their chins.
Badger cubs are born in February, with two to three cubs per litter. By March and early April they are exploring the tunnels and chambers in their family setts and, by mid to late April, they are making their first visits to the outside world. By twelve weeks old, they are being weaned and begin to forage outside with their mother. By fifteen weeks, they are brave enough to forage alone. By the time that autumn comes they are almost the same size as adults and are enthusiastically building up body fat which will enable them to survive the winter.
There is something very inconvenient about our poor and vulnerable too, with our (much eroded) right to healthcare and support and with our calls for hearth and home and family. In a recent survey of 2000 mothers it was found that “1 in 5 regularly go without meals to feed their children, 16% are being treated for stress-related illnesses and one third are borrowing money from friends and family to stay afloat. Teachers have reported that thousands of children are going to school hungry, exhausted and poorly clothed. A study by Tesco estimated that one in five people was going hungry.” (quoted by Nick Cohen in ‘The Spectator’, January 2014) Only those in work, and even moreso ‘hard working’, are considered productive enough to be worthy of support and respect, and only then if we keep quiet. Like the badgers, we get in the way. I am lifting a prayer that we always will. Like the badgers, we smell too much of earth and what is real. Like the badgers, we remember. Like the badgers, we are not broken and we have a long history of survival.
Taken as separate issues, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Everywhere we look there is something that we find impossible to stomach or to believe. Many of us, understandably, turn away. I believe that if we are able to dig underneath each issue to the radical roots, if we can claw at the bark until we find the rot below, we will find that, rather than being separate, these attacks on badger and human have the same source; a wish to control and to possess, and a belief that what is vulnerable has no value. We have something valuable that those who think only of money and power can never have; “like the badgers, we smell too much of earth and what is real". If we look for the kinship and the connections between us; between badger and farmer, cow and human, we will see that we are not alone in this fierce fight. We can call upon the spirit of the badger people in our own struggle against draconian moves to sell off the NHS and to withdraw benefits, just as they should be able to call on us in stand up against their murderers. No matter which thread of protest and action we might choose we are fighting against the same belief and declaring that we are of value to life. Badgers are fierce in defending their homes and their clans. In fighting for them, we are also reclaiming our right to be heard. We can stand with the badger people in reclaiming the land that was always ours.
In the badger spirit I find…
Ancient digger, old tunneler, keeper of the deep earth songlines, wild forager, quiet earth hunter, Brother Night, Sister Night, dark earth belly, beloved of the Elder Mother, lover of the soil, warrior spirit, carrier of the earth scars, watcher of time, guardian of the land, mapper of memory, protected by nettle, thorn, and rose, by holly and bramble, beating earth heart, honour in connection, power in belonging, breathing earth moving, snuffling the pathways, digging the songlines, earth mover, earth turner, deep heart holder, earth heart holder, wisdom of home and hearth and clan, keeper of the ancient tales of land and tribe, enduring memory of what has been, of what was, unseen warrior, fierce and peaceful deep earth ancestor…
I stand with the badger people…
(Photo: Jacqueline Woodward-Smith, taken at the march against the badger cull, June 2013)