I don’t know what’s going on at the moment but on the last few occasions I’ve been out and about, there’s been little to see of interest on the wildlife front. There are still plenty of birds in the garden but once I step outside, everything seems to be in hiding. Must be the weather.
Yesterday was no different. I hauled my binoculars and camera with me on my daily walk and saw a pair of kestrels above Lane Side, magpies in just about every field and the resident house sparrows in Gawthorpe. In desperation, I went to see if Mr Brock was fit and well. It’s pretty obvious he and his family are home. There’s fresh spoil around the entrances to the sett and, interestingly, a few feathers outside two of them indicating they’d probably had birds for supper. I followed some of the tracks and found hairs on the barbed wire where they’ve squeezed under stock fences and, in the soft grassland, diggings where they’ve been searching for their favourite food, earthworms. When the ground is relatively soft, worms are easily found but the badger is a true omnivore, feeding on whatever is available including green plants, fruit, slugs and insects, small mammals, birds and eggs, nuts and cereals – the countryside is just one massive larder. A couple of years ago when we had a huge crop of plums, they visited the garden almost every night, climbing the wall next to the tree and helping themselves. And to illustrate their varied diet, my trailcam once picked up a badger carrying what looked like a stoat in its mouth.
But not everything in the garden is rosy for the badger. They tend to use the same tracks to take them to feeding grounds and those tracks often cross roads. Here they find their way to the top of the league for animals killed or injured by traffic. The Badger Trust estimates that 55,000 badgers are killed on our roads every year. That’s around 66% of the UK population. It’s a sad fact that most people have only ever seen a badger lying dead on the verge yet they are a beautiful animal and fascinating to watch, particularly when they are with the family.
Of course, the badger is not the only animal that becomes road kill. There are various estimates that suggest a quarter of a million hedgehogs and thousands of deer die annually in traffic collisions.
So here’s something to think about. Many different organisations spend hundreds of thousands of pounds each year on wildlife conservation. You may contribute to that cost if you are a member of the RSPB, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust or similar organisation. Yet there is a free and simple way to reduce the impact of roadkill on wildlife numbers and, in doing so, help to protect our animals – slow down and stay alert, particularly on country roads during the hours of darkness. You might think there is little chance of your hitting a badger, a deer or a hedgehog in your car but people do, every day.
One day last week at 7pm, I just avoided a collision with a beautiful fox that ran out in front of my car in Chimney Lane. Roe deer are fairly common around Kirkheaton now. Hitting one of them will not only cause death or serious injury to the animal but will easily put a ding or two in your pride and joy. The RSPCA estimates that, annually, between 10 and 20 people are killed in collisions with deer and thousands suffer injury. Just about every year, at least one of our local badgers lies dead at the side of the road.
Since my near miss with foxy, I’m extra careful when I’m driving at night. I don’t want to be the one to add to the casualty statistics, whether animal or human.