Despite mess we still love garden invaders
IT has long been said that there is a rat living within six feet of us all, and although this is obviously a slight exaggeration, it is probably not that far from the truth.
However, as we move further into the 21st century there are a couple more contenders for ‘urban-myth’ status. I reckon there is a red fox within 50 metres and a badger as close as half a kilometre, with both species, in some cases, being at the bottom of the garden without the residents even knowing.
Recent events in London, where it is claimed a fox mauled twin sisters in their cot, are a stark reminder however, because although most readers adore the creatures they are still wild animals and therefore unpredictable, especially when cornered.
This claim of proximity is purely based on reader observations over the past ten years, with reports of the fox taking up around 20 per cent of all communications, and the badger now accounting for around 5 per cent.
Most readers love having the creatures about, but there are exceptions. Take this very eloquent missive from a disgruntled correspondent several years ago, “Hi Sean, It’s alright you saying how beautiful badgers are, but in gardens they damage fences, dig up lawns for insect larvae (particularly leatherjackets), turn over dustbins, climb fruit trees or break their lower branches to obtain cherries, apples, pears or plums. Badgers are also very partial to soft fruit crops, particularly strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries, and to certain vegetables. They may raid new potato crops, dig up carrots and damage sweetcorn. Badgers also use latrines to mark their territories, and these are sometimes dug in lawns or flowerbeds.”
Okay, it is true, but guess what, they have been upsetting people for 2,000 years, so it is not a new phenomenon. Imagine the mood of the Roman tile maker when he saw a badger had run over his freshly made tiles drying in the sun.
A fence that will keep out a badger needs to be strong, usually chain link, and at least 125cm high. The fence should be buried at least 30cm into the ground, and with a piece at the bottom set at right angles facing outwards from the garden for 50cm underground. Gateways and other points of entry need to be secure enough to stop a badger squeezing through or climbing over or under.
Clearly such a fence is expensive to erect and maintain, and is impracticable in most situations. Stalemate I fear. But most of you, like me, enjoy them anyway and are quite prepared to see the garden messed up now and again.
As we all now know, foxes have adapted well to life in towns over the last 50 years or so. They prosper because they find plentiful food and shelter in our gardens, yards and other open spaces. Their diet is varied and will include insects and grubs, slugs, worms, small rodents, and indeed anything that they can raid from our rubbish.
Foxes usually hunt alone but live in family groups consisting of a dog fox plus a vixen and a litter averaging 4.5 cubs per year in the UK, often with one or two more vixens – usually daughters or sisters of the mother vixen – helping to raise the family.
In towns their most common breeding site is under a garden shed or decking, and around one third of their diet consists of food they have scavenged, mainly from our rubbish.
The balance is made up of rats, mice, feral pigeons, rabbits and other small animals that they have hunted, augmented by worms and insects. At certain times of the year berries can form a major part of their diet: at blackberry time, for example, their droppings are full of blackberry seeds.
As with the badger, most of you have grown to love the fox. However, if the reverse is true, then the answer is in your hands: Remove the attraction.
Removal of the food source will reduce the attractiveness of your garden to the fox.
Keep all domestic refuse in wheelie bins or closed containers, not plastic bags. If you use bags for your refuse only put them out on the morning of collection.
Make sure all domestic animals and livestock are securely caged or fenced in.
Do not leave food out for other animals, for example cats, dogs, rabbits and so on. Be extremely careful where you put food out for birds, ideally this should be in approved feeders.
And lastly, do not leave your doors open at night.
A badger at the back door
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop