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Some highlights of our recent work
The Russell School, Ham constructs Wildlife Garden
The Russell School had reconstructed their wildlife garden but a badger dug a hole in their compost heap. We built an artificial sett nearby from large plastic pipes and plywood to offer a more permanent residence. We hope this new two-hole 'Des Res' will encourage the badgers to move. The enthusiastic children, many of whom belong to a school wildlife club, are keeping an eye on the sett to look for signs of badger occupation. Local badgers are being disturbed by a lot of house building and may look on this new sett with relief.
The Opening of the Wildlife Garden at Russell School in Ham.
Ray Ings and I were honoured to be invited to the official opening of the Russell School, Ham wildlife garden. This garden had been inspired by the BBC's Breathing Places campaign and was the result of much hard work by pupils and staff. I had also played my part in installing the artificial badger sett.
Sir David Attenborough opened the Wildlife Garden and our photo opportunity was a wonderful experience. He is as charming and beguiling as one would imagine him to be. When I built the artificial sett I had no idea it would feature in such an enjoyable celebration.
The ESBPS says "THANK YOU, Bayer Animal Health"
Our Society has been building up experience and expertise in rehabilitating orphaned badger cubs back to the wild. This means that the numbers enjoying a second chance at living the natural life of a badger are increasing. We have wanted to monitor the results of our releases but so far this has only involved CCTV coverage at some release sites. But what happens to the badgers after that?
Do they stay close to the release site?
Do they stick to the group they formed while being cared for?
Do they join a local wild group?
Do they travel further afield?
How long do they survive?
Senior Field Officer Warwick Reynolds uses our new Bayer Imax Tracer Reader to check a micro-chipped cub held by Hospital Manager Sarah Cowen at Wildlife Aid.
Photographs by Mathew Morton.
Our rehabilitated badgers have been cared for by Wildlife Aid at Leatherhead where they are micro-chipped before release. Unfortunately, our most frequent close contact with badgers is when they are found trapped, ill, injured or dead - most often after being hit by a motor vehicle. We wanted to be able to check whether such badgers have ever been through the hands of Wildlife Aid or ourselves without having to borrow a microchip reader. This meant us having to acquire a reader for ourselves. We checked with Wildlife Aid as to the equipment they used, and this led us to Bayer Animal Health, who make the piece of kit we wanted. This was a lightweight, battery operated portable reader which gives a clear readout if a scanned animal has a microchip implanted. This would thus tell us what we need to know about any badger we rescued or found dead.
Microchip readers are not cheap but in the course of our enquiries we were lucky enough to be referred to Jenny Domican of Bayer Animal Health, who it transpires is very interested in badgers. She was very supportive of us, talked the matter through in detail and could see the benefits to us of having a reader. In the end she was able to arrange that Bayer actually donated an Imax Tracer Reader to us. Some badgers we scan will not have been micro-chipped but that in itself is relevant data. However, if we come across a badger who has been micro-chipped then its date and place of release will give us valuable information we did not have access to before. It will tell us how long the badger had been back in the wild, how far it had travelled since release, and perhaps from that we can judge how successful a particular release site has been, and how long it has been used. This will increase our knowledge of badger behaviour, and point to where we can fine tune or improve the help we give to badgers.
So, thank you to Jenny, and thank you to Bayer. We very much appreciate your generosity in supplying us with such an important piece of equipment, and for supporting us in the work we do.
We have recovered one badger which was in perfect condition but had been killed by a car. The scanner enabled us to ascertain that the badger had been released for 6 months and was still in the vicinity of the release site.
Badger Rescued from Vertical Shaft
On a cold and wet Sunday evening I got a call from Penny Jeffers one of our members who has a farm near East Grinstead. She told me that two young men had knocked on her door to tell her that they had seen a badger trapped in a shaft in some woodland north of her farm. By this time it was quite dark and the scenario she described on the phone sounded quite a challenge. I felt it would be prudent to get some reinforcements, so I phoned Steve Monahan to see if he was available. Penny and her husband escorted us into the woods as she knew exactly where to look. Steve and I would never have found the shaft by ourselves at that time of night. Without our powerful arc lamps, the journey through the woods would have been very tricky and we could easily have stumbled into the shaft. But after getting a few slaps in the face from bits of foliage and sliding around in some pretty deep mud, we finally got to the old water treatment plant. It had clearly been abandoned for many years. The shaft gave access to a large stopcock that had regulated water flow in a pipe that was part of the abandoned waterworks. There should have been a manhole cover over this shaft, which was 4-5m deep. The vertical drop was potentially lethal to man or beast. And lethal it would have been for the badger, if it hadn't been spotted by the young men.
Sure enough at the bottom of the shaft, there was the badger. It had managed to crawl onto a pile of bricks in one of the corners. This had kept the unfortunate creature clear of the water which was nearly the depth of the average welly boot (which Steve was soon to find out). Steve and I realised that this was going to be one of the most difficult rescues that we had been involved in. As Steve was sorting out the crush cage and lighting I hung over the edge of the shaft and attempted to tough (catch) the badger with the grasper. It was difficult to know what condition it was in but it appeared unscathed. As luck would have it the badger lifted its head and I was able to slide the loop of the grasper around its neck. This was too good to be true - I wasn't expecting to be so lucky. I tightened the noose around the badger's neck and started the difficult task of pulling the animal up the shaft without letting it wriggle free. It was very difficult to get any leverage because of the narrowness and depth of the shaft. I had the badger about half way up when it appeared to wake up to what was happening, and started to struggle. I called out to Steve to see if he could grab the cable connecting the grasper and the noose from the other side of the shaft. He, like me, was taken by surprise and wasn't in a position to help quite quickly enough. To my dismay the badger managed to slide out of the noose and plummeted back to the bottom of the shaft. Fortunately it missed the protruding stopcock and another piece of metal that stuck vertically from the bottom of the shaft. We were back to square one with a now very wary badger. It had got back onto the bricks and curled its head tightly into the rest of its body, so making the use of the grasper virtually impossible. Well, Steve was the one with the wellies, not me, so no prizes for guessing who got the vote to go down into the shaft.
Mr Jeffers had brought a ladder out with him so this was positioned down the shaft and an intrepid Steve gingerly made his way down to the bottom. There was very little room for manoeuvre and if the badger did get it in its mind to bite Steve there was not going to be much he could do about it. Still, cometh the moment and cometh the man. The challenge was to get the grasper loop around the badger's neck, but the badger wasn't playing ball. I tried leaning down as far as I could to gently prod the badger with a stick to encourage it to lift its head. This had the added danger of antagonizing the animal with Steve's legs protected only by his boots. (I felt that this was a risk worth taking from my position of safety!). This did not work. In the end Steve had to pull the badger's head (don't try this at home!) in order to get a response and he was then able to get the loop over the head and around the neck. The grasper was then handed to me and I lifted the badger towards the top of the shaft. Half way up I had to wait for Steve to climb up the ladder so that he could give me some assistance. With one last pull we managed to get the badger clear of the shaft. And then had to make sure that is was still held firmly in the grasper.
We had no idea of the extent of any injuries and needed to check for this before deciding on the next course of action. We got the badger into the crush cage and allowed it to settle for a while, before making an assessment. It seemed that the badger despite its ordeal was physically in good shape. It was certainly lively enough and was moving around in a free and unrestricted manner. We covered the shaft with some logs, and then satisfied as we could be, released the badger. It scurried off with full mobility, so we were confident that we had made the right decision.
Mr and Mrs Jeffers told us that the woodland was owned by a nearby golf club and I have been assured by the management that the shaft has now been permanently covered over. As I pointed out to them, it was a danger to wildlife and to humans. Under liability laws the golf club could have faced a massive personal injuries bill. I would like to thank Penny and her husband for assisting us in the rescue. I must also give Steve Monahan a special mention in dispatches, for putting himself in a situation that went above and beyond the call of duty. We sent a certificate to the two young men - James Brooks and Howard White in recognition of their responsible action and the appreciation felt by the ESBPS and, of course, the badger.
Badger in Grave Danger!
by Warwick Reynolds (ESBPS Senior Field Officer)
I had a call from the staff of a Redhill cemetery ‘A badger has got its head stuck in a grave stone’. ‘What do I need for this rescue?’ I thought ‘angle grinder? bolt croppers? I don't know! Sling everything on board and off we go’.
Sure enough there was the badger with its head stuck in a 3½ inch diameter hole in the marble base of the headstone. Usually this hole is used for a flower pot. Mr Badger was screwing round and round over the grave, up over the headstone then down and round again. He must have been doing this for some time, because his paws were bleeding. Holding the badger vertically, I could see that its jaw bones had sprung through the hole and then jammed. No way was its head going to become unstuck. I immediately phoned Ted Burden, Founder of Riverside Animal Centre. Thankfully, he was able to come out but it took him an hour to arrive. In the mean time I had been hanging on grimly to the wriggling badger. Ted gave the badger a tranquillizer but this seemed to have the same effect as adrenaline – its struggles grew even fiercer. I continued to grapple with the badger while ‘Hercules’ struggled to lift the heavy marble slab for the mighty ‘Thor’ to strike a tremendous blow with his sledge hammer. The slab shattered and out popped the badger's head. Its ears must have been ringing but they were still attached to his head. You can see the thickness of the broken slab in the background of the second photo above.
The badger was unscathed apart from bleeding paws and abrasions round its neck. Two days in the Animal Hospital calmed it down and then it was back to the cemetery for the release. The badger just ran and ran in a straight line back towards the woods where the sett is located.
In July and August we had experienced weeks without rain, the grass was parched and I imagine the badger was looking for water. I suggested to the Council that they should put out bowls of water for the wildlife - after all, there are taps dotted around the cemetery.
Ed: This episode proves the value of Field Officers like Warwick who are experienced in handling frightened badgers and the need for animal hospitals like Riverside Animal Centre to aid their recovery. Both are very worthy of your support.
A Dog Rescue
from Warwick Reynolds Senior Field Officer
In May 2012 I got a call from a lady in Coulsdon telling me her Jack Russell named Buster and nicknamed ‘Badger’ due to his black and white facial markings, had been down a badger sett for more than 24 hours. I went straight over to assess the situation, which I can only describe as dire. The sett had many entrances, was situated on a steep wooded slope and extended for over 100m.
I listened at all the entrances using my ASTMDE device in picture below - Acoustical Subterranean Trapped Mammal Detection Equipment - aka plastic waste pipe. I couldn’t hear so much as a bark or whimper.
Next day Buster had been trapped for more than 48 hours, a time when often trapped dogs have slimmed down enough to escape. It is also a time when Natural England, the licensing body for protected species, will consider issuing a licence to dig into a sett to rescue a dog. So our Chairman Ray Ings secured the licence, although, realistically, there was going to be little hope of digging through so many roots.
The assistance of the Fire Department was requested by Buster's family. It was encouraging that the Fire Department refused to attend until the necessary licence had been issued; there have been occasions in other parts of the country where over-enthusiastic departments have dug into setts without being certain the dog is still trapped.
The fireman's polecam was unable to negotiate the sharp bends that badgers build into their tunnels. Next the seismic and sound detection equipment used to locate people trapped in collapsed buildings was tried. This is an impressive bit of kit, which picked up two underground movements, which momentarily raised the spirits of searchers. However, the targets were moving so they were probably badgers.
Still raining, no sign of Buster and so it was DynoRod's turn but their drain cam also found it difficult to negotiate the muddy tunnels.
Then for the next 4 days Buster's family and friends and I lay out in the sodden woods, listening at the entrances using pipes and microphones for up to 15 hours a day. It was a strange experience. I'd never been camping without a tent before. People walking past were rather surprised to see us with our heads down a badger sett calling 'Badger’ ‘Badger'. We never heard a single bark and I am sure we all feared the worst.
Then one wet morning as I was preparing to leave home for another day of swamp snorkling, the phone rang and I knew by the excited voice on the other end that Buster had returned home. After 6 days the little rascal had returned unscathed apart from a nip on the bum. He was not dehydrated or visibly skinny. It had all been well worth it.
A report in a local paper that the rescue had been thwarted by legal protection was not true
The firemen listen and patiently wait – note the essential ASTMDE device in the foreground.
Buster’ and his very grateful owner – he seems no worse off for his adventure.
From several dog rescues there emerges a number of unexpected facts:
- Dogs nearly always find their own way out
- Dogs can survive much longer underground than one might think – sometimes up to 30 days.
- Badgers rarely kill trapped dogs – they might give them the odd nip.
- Trapped dogs don't do much barking.
The biggest danger is when a trapped dog gets free, disorientated, and has to cross roads to reach home.
A Lucky Young Badger
by David Malins
In early July a young badger, about 6 months old, was injured by a car in Linton Glade, Croydon. A concerned person called the RSPCA who collected the badger and took it to the Wildlife Aid animal hospital in Leatherhead. The badger seemed to have suffered mild concussion and quickly recovered.
Two days rest and good food confirmed it was ready to go home. The next job was to release the badger near a sett close to its accident. As I live nearby I was asked to assist the release.
On a cold dark drizzly evening I met a representative from Wildlife Aid who brought the badger in a carrying cage. I decided that there were 2 setts that the badger could have come from - one in Selsdon Wood or another beyond Sorrel Bank. I decided to try Selsdon Wood, so we took the cage and opened it on top of the nearest active sett. The badger was reluctant to leave its comfortable cage and had to be gently tipped out. It lay on top of the sett for about 10 minutes trying to work out where it was. Then ignoring the sett it was on top of, it set off hesitatingly along a badger path in a south-westerly direction towards other badger setts.
We were congratulating ourselves when it stopped and walked slowly in a wide circle. It then came out onto the main path, sniffed at our boots and then set off determinedly back along the main path in the opposite direction. It passed the sett I had chosen without hesitating and disappeared in the direction of the other sett I had considered. It appeared to know where it was going.
Young as it was it seemed to have a homing instinct like pigeons. The badger was able to circle and then know the way home.
See reports of our badger releases in in Releasing Badgers.