In 2015, I built an artificial badger sett at Yew View, with the help of Jason from Wildlife Windows. It was an amazing project and I was thrilled with the final build and the cameras, which were lowered down pipe 'chimneys', into the chambers. I designed a system meaning the cameras could easily be lifted out, cleaned, and put back in. The cameras have glass domes and quickly get dirty when muddy badgers come in and shake in front of the lens!
Over the last five years, we have filmed a number of different badgers in the sett as well as other mammals, including a fox, polecat, stoat, mice, voles, a cat and even newts. I have been thrilled with what we have captured.
You can see more of the footage on my Badger Sett YouTube Playlist
Although I knew it was highly unlikely, I always dreamed of a badger choosing this chamber to raise a family. I knew it unlikely as this sett, is used as a satellite or annex sett. This means it is not a sett occupied my a whole clan of badgers, but rather solitary animals or those moving on from the main sett. We have had a number of badgers in here; youngsters that had moved on from a main sett and chilled out here for a bit before moving on. We have also filmed old and injured badgers using this space. BBC Autumnwatch followed the story of an elderly female dying here, in one of the chambers.
For the last few weeks, I had been unable to remove the camera to clean the lens because Peggy, a regular, has been hanging out here a lot. Peggy, so named because she had a limp for a while, has visited this sett on and off for the last few years. She is distinctive because she has half an ear and a white, long and pale tail.
Last week when I was onsite, I could just about see she was still in there, but the lens was really dirty as it has been so muddy and wet. I cannot take the camera out if there is a badger in there, so have to put up with the muck until they leave and I can take it out to clean the glass.
With all the excitement of our tawny owls, I did not take much notice of this mucky view as I knew I wouldn't get very good footage. I joked with DJ, (the owner of the site) in the week that there was a lot of bedding in there and maybe she had had cubs. I never dreamt that it was actually true!
This week, just before I left for home, I thought I would have a quick look. Several things has made me notice a different kind of routine. There was a lot of bedding, she had been in there for several weeks with hardly leaving, which is unusual..... and I knew that this is the time that the cubs are born.
You can imagine my disbelief when I realised, through a VERY muddy lens, that two cubs had been born, sometime around the 17th February. It really was a scenario that I had not really thought would ever happen. I was absolutely thrilled and very excited! Despite the terrible muddy lens, I was still able to make out these two tiny new born cubs and Peggy carefully tending to them....
I did wish I had been able to clean the lens, but despite the muck, I could still clearly make out these tiny new lives....
My joy pretty quickly turned to great sadness. On the 19th Feb, Peggy left the sett. In that time, a large male came to the chamber. Initially, he was just sniffing around the space. Suddenly he saw or heard the cubs in the front, left hand corner. With lightning speed he homed down on them. Grabbing them, he shook them violently and, in just a few seconds, had killed both. He then left the chamber.
I have decided not to publish the footage. To be honest, it is horrible to watch. Not only had these two little lives been taken, but my dreams of badgers being raised on site and my visions of filming and watching these cubs grow, had also gone. Of course, I know that nature can be cruel. These cubs did not belong to this male. He will probably want to mate with this female. He was seen outside the sett, scent marking and ground pawing.
The female returned some time later. she found the dead cubs and moved them around the sett chamber. She later ate one of them.
Of course, setting up cameras in locations like this means that you film wonderful things... but also film episodes that are less pleasant. It is all part of nature and footage such as this helps us to understand more about how satellite setts operate and how the complex lives of these mustelids play out.
The positives are that this sett is obviously an attractive enough location for breeding. If it has happened once, may be it will happen again. I have to be thankful for this insight into their lives.... and these tiny new lives that were sadly not to be.