Thursday, 19 July 2018

Mr Brock comes calling

Someone has been digging holes in the croquet lawn, and I feel sure it is Brock the badger. I met him at the bottom of the Lime Alley at dusk one evening last autumn, as I carried a glass of wine with me to my place of contemplation. I froze and looked at him, and he froze and looked at me. We looked at each other for at least a minute, and then he trotted off through a hole in the hedge.

Mr Tommy Brock, from Beatrix Potter's 'The Tale of Mr Todd'
That's the only time I've seen him, but I often see signs of his nocturnal visits. He dug holes in the croquet lawn last autumn too - no doubt in search of grubs, such as cockchafer or ghost moth larvae. When the cobnuts are ripe and falling I suspect it is he that comes to hoover them up, because he leaves his scat around. This summer too I am finding the scat, which includes lots of undigested blackcurrants - the blackbirds have almost stripped the bushes already, and a lot fall to the ground, where they make easy picking for badgers. Here are some photos:

A hole dug in the croquet lawn

Badger scat with blackcurrants
I shall have to fill the holes with sand to make the croquet lawn flat again before the grandsons come to visit, because they will surely want to play croquet. But I don't really mind the small inconvenience. It is good to be reminded that my garden is a part of the wider landscape in which other creatures God has created live their lives.

The only place in the garden Brock has gone digging seems to be the croquet lawn, and I wonder why. It is mown close, but that can't be the reason, as so are other places in the garden. Perhaps it is because it is at the bottom of a slope down from the drive border, and the watertable there is closer to the surface, so that the grubs are easier to reach in the current drought.

I like the old English name Brock for the badger. It is a loan word from the Celtic languages that were once spoken in England before the Anglo-Saxons arrived on the scene - cf 'broc' in Irish and Scottish Gaelic and 'broch' in Welsh.

Badgers can contract bovine tuberculosis (TB) from cattle, and are a significant reservoir of infection, reinfecting TB-free herds. Humans can also be infected with TB from raw milk or handling cattle, though with pasteurisation this is much rarer than it once was, thanks be to God. TB is a significant problem for farmers with cattle in Ireland, and for many years the State has supported a TB eradication programme, requiring all cattle to be tested for TB annually, and reactors to be slaughtered. This has also included the culling of badgers in areas where there is evidence they are reinfecting herds, even though they are a protected species. Happily, in January this year the Government announced a programme to vaccinate badgers against TB. It will commence in the areas which have already been part of field trials demonstrating the effectiveness of badger vaccination, and it will roll out incrementally to other parts of the country over time, with vaccination gradually replacing the need to remove badgers. The aim is to totally eradicate TB in Ireland whilst both protecting the badger population and protecting cattle and the livelihoods of farmers.

Let us pray that this new initiative, based on solid science, will be successful, so that we can continue to enjoy the presence of badgers alongside our livestock industry.

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