De­spite mess we still love gar­den in­vaders

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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

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