27. Badgers on Track by Kevin O'Hara

Thursday 5th May 2011

© Allan Potts

I was out walking the other day enjoying an early morning stretch of the legs along the river, taking in the sounds of the woodland. As the dawn chorus was filling the canopy, sandpipers shrieked from the river gravels and dippers bobbed and caught caddis larvae for their young.

The smell of ramsons filled my head with thoughts of food (it always does), as its heady garlic aroma makes me think of all manner of wonderful cuisine. Anyway, my thoughts were rudely interrupted by the excited yips of my dogs as they came across a large dead creature on the path just a few metres in front, by the river Wansbeck.

Restraining the hounds of Cerberus, I looked upon what was clearly a very recently deceased badger, so fresh indeed that rigor mortis had not yet fully set in. I have only occasionally come across dead badgers, or other creatures for that matter, that have died of ‘near’ natural causes, as they usually find somewhere out of sight to pass away. This one was lying right across the footpath.

I looked around for signs of a struggle, anything that could explain Brock’s demise, but nothing was obvious so I looked over the body. A male in good condition save for severe puncture and laceration marks around the neck and shoulder region, with similar injuries, all very fresh, around the nether regions. My suspicions were confirmed when I looked in his mouth and at his feet. Stiff badger hairs were lodged in his teeth and between his claws.

This badger had obviously fallen foul to the rigours of badger society and paid the ultimate price, with his life. This is unusual but not unheard of, but given the rigours of this dry spring he may have fallen foul of the need for more space within a growing family, or food shortages, as badgers mainly eat earthworms. Whatever it was, it was still strange to find it in such a situation, but not as I say unusual to find predators attacked by their own kind or by others.

Badgers are fiercely territorial creatures so this happens fairly regularly, if not so severely. However, other predators are less clear-cut as to why they clash; it does invariably revolve around either one or two things, both relating to competition: either for access to females, or to food and shelter. Sometimes though, it is just out of sheer might of authority. It happens very frequently throughout the animal kingdom (and I include humans within that kingdom), between the same species (intraspecific) or between different species (interspecific).

A few years ago I witnessed an otter kill and dismember a mink on the Isle of Mull, the first time it had ever been recorded, and since then I have seen it several times and so have others. We are safe in the knowledge that there is a great deal of antagonism between these two species and that this is reflected in the current distribution and population structure of the two species. Only last year I knew of a mink family on the river Blyth who made the fatal mistake of birthing within the range of a female otter. She too gave birth, but not before she had systematically hunted down and killed every mink from that family.

Nature can be a cruel spectacle, but it is all done within reason and as I continued my walk, pondering the fate of poor old Bill Brock my attention was drawn by shrill whistles and a flash of azure brilliance. Mrs Kingfisher, or Mr for that matter, was bashing the hell out of a small fish to feed to his nearby brood, clearly audible above the noise of the tumbling river. Another flash of colour and it disappeared into a hole in an exposed bank, and in seconds it was back out to its perch above a trapped minnow shoal.

The process was repeated over and over again and I watched until I was bored, or the dogs were, and moved along comfortable that this was both life and death in nature. What a wonderful morning.