Earlier this month a set of new front doors appeared at some of Fingle Wood’s wild woodland homes. Reminiscent of a scene from Winnie The Pooh, the series of small wooden fronted entrances have been installed on a badger sett by a team of ecologists from Devon Wildlife Consultants. While there is an amusing side to this story, it is based on a serious act of wildlife protection under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Some time ago the badgers constructed this set under a forest track which, this year, is needed by the forestry machines to extract timber and continue the conifer thinning as part of the overall woodland restoration.
As usual, the long-term view of the woodland managers to improve wildlife habitats on a landscape scale needs to be balanced with the welfare of existing populations. The conservation of the valley as a whole will inevitably lead to the temporary disruption of small areas of habitat and, as the woodland restoration and conservation manuals say “doing nothing is not an option”. It’s a fine balancing act.
The wooden doors and surrounding steel mesh have been fixed to the ground at every aperture on this sett and, under a strictly controlled Natural England licence, the one-way gates will allow any badgers to leave the sett and prevent their return. While this may appear to be a drastic action, in this case it appears that the set has not been used for some time. It is described as an “annex” sett and the ecologists have 21 days of regular checking to confirm the area is currently inactive; the badgers are probably using another sett elsewhere in their range. The licenced work must be done before the end of November and once it has been established that no fresh digging has occurred, the network of tunnels will be excavated by machine.
This part of the operation is carried out with great skill as the digger operators must follow each underground passage to its end to absolutely confirm there are no badgers present. This work will be closely supervised by experienced ecologists to ensure it is done carefully and thoroughly. Their work is, in turn, very closely checked by Natural England who need regular updates and reports on the progress of the badger exclusion procedure. While checking the gates with only a few days of the observation period left, Kitty from DWC said “it looks like there’s no recent activity here”. With a clear concern for the sensitive nature of her work, she added “it’s definitely an animal welfare issue and it’s strictly controlled by Natural England who can monitor our work at any time”.
The NE licence can only be issued in very specific circumstances where it is necessary to disturb or destroy a sett. In this case the animals appear to be settling down for winter in another part of the wood and, once the area is confirmed as badger free the forest track can be re-layed to allow the wider conservation effort to continue.
In case you missed it before, this is a short film taken last year in another part of Fingle Woods.
The next Fingle Bridge Inn lecture is from photographer Paul Moody on 1st December 2016
by Matt Parkins