Capturing Badgers by Wildlife Photographer Tesni Ward…
European Badgers have been heavily persecuted by man for hundreds of years, dating back to 1566 when a change in law made Badgers a real target. This Act of Parliament meant that it was compulsory for the general population to kill as many creatures on the ‘vermin’ list as possible, with a significant financial incentive for returned carcasses. It wasn’t just ‘official’ activities that threatened Badger populations, badger baiting also played a large part from the 1800s, which still continues to this day despite being outlawed in 1835.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that my initial quest to find and photograph badgers was met with numerous failures. They have every reason to avoid humans, but this didn’t deter me, I was on a mission and I’m too stubborn to give up that easily!
It took months, countless hours of research and reading on all aspects of badger ecology, behaviour and speaking with experts and hunt saboteurs until I was successful in locating my first sett; I’ve never been so excited at finding fresh droppings! Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, as it became apparent that these Badgers didn’t come aboveground until long after sunset, which was understandable when I learned it was heavily targeted by baiters! Rather than risk negatively impacting them in any way, I decided to continue the search, but it took several more weeks and a spark of luck to find the sett I now work with.
With over 20 entrances across a steep clay hill, it was apparent that this sett would present it’s own unique challenges, well, where do I start? The first evening I spent there I chose an entrance to watch, nestled back into the bushes and waited silently. Following all the ‘typical’ rules of badger watching, I kept silent and still for about half an hour, balancing my 500mm lens and camera on my knee in the hope that a badger may pop out, before I heard a distinctive snap behind me.
Slowly, I turned to survey the area, finding nothing, but as I turned back, I was confronted by a large male badger, not 3m from me. I was frozen in complete and utter shock; I couldn’t believe it was happening!
All this time searching for these beautiful animals and there’s one right in front of me. I think he was as surprised as me, standing and sniffing the air for about 30 seconds. It felt like hours. Desperately trying and failing to focus the camera, knowing full well I couldn’t frame the shot and that the badger was likely far too close, he waddled into the bushes beside me. My heart was pounding clean out of my chest and I was overwhelmed with what had just happened, but the light was fading and I knew that it was time to leave whilst the coast was clear.
It took several more visits before I was able to ascertain which entrances they were regularly using, but I saw badgers every single time. Using 4 grouped entrances undercover of ferns and foliage, I was forced to sit on the steepest section of the hill in order to keep far back whilst still being in visual contact. To this day, I’m constantly battling to not slip down the bank; my tripod has spiked feet… my shoes do not.
My first night sat observing this area proved to be even more extraordinary than the first, as I watched 7 individuals leave the sett and forage in the area, with the largest boar coming within a few meters but apparently never recognising that I was present…
This would be the beginning of an adventure for me, visiting regularly to see my ‘badger family’. As the summer went on, individuals gradually earned names due to their unique characteristics and personalities. Mr Piggy was a young cub who overnight developed a severe abscess on the side of his face. I was very clearly beyond emotional attachment, being distraught and concerned for his future.
You can imagine how overjoyed I was when 3 days later I saw him again, with an albeit slightly gross burst abscess and his usual, quirky personality beaming through. Monitoring his progress, I watched it heal over time and this, paired with his personality, earned him the name.
It’s hard to know if they’re aware that I’m there or not, never coming ‘too close’ but they undoubtedly seem far more comfortable and less skittish than when I first began to spend time with them. I like to think that they know I’m there, choosing to gift me with a few moments of their day whenever I’m there.
It is because of these extraordinary experiences that any negative opinion of these creatures, even in modern society, baffles me. Timid at first, their charisma quickly shines through. Playing, grooming and being generally clumsy, they could easily be mistaken for our own furry household companions.
If you’d be interested in taking a photography workshop with Tesni, please click here for more details. From British seals, birds, lizards or the Peak District landscape- Tesni can show you the way around photographing them all!