In the 20 years I have lived in my house, I’ve always looked on in envy at those people you see on TV who have a family of foxes, badgers, pine martens or other such creatures regularly visiting their gardens. Living on the edge of an urban area, close to the open countryside, I’ve always thought I was lucky to even have my narrow glimpses of fields and distant hills from my house, but wildlife has often been lacking. Yes, my garden bird list not terrible but I’ve rarely had any good mammal sightings. The grey squirrels are regular visitors as is a mouse, I installed a hedgehog home some years ago but I can barely remember seeing them, I once had a mole hill in the lawn and about once or twice a year I see a bat flit overhead as the daylight subsides. That’s about it for 20 years.
After being locked down in London, I returned home to find a hole had been dug under one of the large bushes in the back garden. It was not a huge hole; probably five or six inches round and around 12 inches deep. When I first saw it, the hole has largely been filled with leaf litter, so probably hadn’t been touched for weeks. I thought no more of it until last week. When I woke in the morning and looked out of the window into the back garden, there was a new hole on the edge of the lawn with the excavated soil liberally scattered across the grass around it. This new hole was about the same size as the first but around the rest of the lawn were a number of other smaller holes, about one to two inches round. It was now time to find out what was creating these holes!
I set up my camera trap and put out some bird food and peanuts on the ground in front of it and left it standing guard over night. In the morning, I went into the back garden but, as has been much the case for many of my camera trap’s outings, it only recorded me! I didn’t give up but for the next four nights got zero in terms of interesting sightings; only a couple of the local cats making their ways through the garden on their nocturnal rounds.
On the sixth night, however, I struck lucky, a badger! Snuffling around the garden, it was happily tucking into the food I’d put out for it (after having to replenish it daily after the squirrels had taken their fills). Eventually it finished all the food off and disappeared into the darkness. Massively excited, I didn’t leave it there and the trap was out each of the following nights with a badger returning the next night and the two coming the night after that.
Having realised that the camera trap had the wrong date and time set up on it, I put it right and the following morning when I checked the recordings, I realised the badgers must have been in the garden at about 9:30pm, before we had gone to bed. So, the next evening we put the food and camera trap out and waited for it to get dark. We crept upstairs and looked out of the rear bedroom window but couldn’t see anything immediately. However, as our eyes got used to the darkness, looking slightly away from where we had put the food, to improve our night vision, we saw some movement, and there, in the gloom, was the stripey face of the badger!
The previous night, we had gone to bed while the badgers were still in the garden and the bright light from the bathroom, shining down onto the lawn, didn’t seem to bother them at all, so we switched it on. With the garden now more visible, we had a great view of the badger wandering around and eating; we could even hear him crunching on the peanuts, once we had dared to open the window. He didn’t even seem to bother us talking a little, in hushed voices; he just kept eating away and then foraging around the rest of the garden, with us watching him from above for about half an hour.
The following night, we did the same thing and had great views of a single badger from the back bedroom window. However, wanting a view from his level, we sneaked downstairs into the kitchen. With all the lights off and the bright digital clocks on the oven and microwave covered up, the kitchen was in pitch darkness. We stood by the largely glass back door watching the badger eat from the bird food tray about a third of the way towards us from the back hedge. Once he had finished that food supply, he started on the peanuts I’d scattered further towards the house. He came closer and closer, and much to our amazement, came right up to the door and peered into the darkness, literally less than a foot from our feet. He didn’t spot us and wander off around the side of the house before reappearing and wandering back up to the far end of the garden. We eventually left him to himself having had the closest view of a badger ever!
We put food out for the next few nights and frequently checked before bedtime to see if the badgers were there but had no further luck. One or two badgers did come back each night but the the timing of their visits varied over the hours between 11:00pm and 4:00am.
I’m absolutely ecstatic to have these lovely animals using my back garden, even if they do leave the odd hole here and there. Although after giving them so much nice food over those nights, I do slightly object to them setting up a latrine in one of the borders!
While it’s wonderful to have them in the garden, this comes with a very large dose of irony. After 20 years of living in the house and dreaming of having such wildlife in my garden, I have only a month left before I will be moving out and leaving the house behind – ‘why now!?!?!?!’ has been said quite a few times over the last week!