This section is from the book "Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain", by Alfred W. Rees. Also available from Amazon: Creatures Of The Night: A Book Of Wild Life In Western Britain.
Night after night, the cubs, sometimes under the protection of both their parents, and sometimes under the protection of only the dam, roamed through the by-ways of the countryside. From each expedition they gleaned something of new and unexpected interest, till they grew wise in the ways of Nature's folk that haunt the gloom—the strong, for ever seeking opportunities of attack; the weak, for ever dreading even a chance shadow on the moonlit trail.
A strange performance, which, for quite a month, seemed devoid of meaning to the cubs, but which, nevertheless, Brock soon learned to imitate, took place whenever the tainted flesh of a dead creature was found in the way.
The old badgers at once became alert, moved with the utmost caution, smelt but did not touch the offensive morsel, and, instead of seizing it, rolled over it again and yet again, as if the scent proved irresistibly attractive. One of the cubs, that had always shown an inclination to act differently from the way in which her companions acted, and often became lazy and stupid when lesson-time arrived, was destined to pay dearly for neglecting to imitate her parents. Lagging behind the rest of the family, as in single file they moved homeward after a long night's hunting in the fallow, she chanced to scent some carrion in the ditch, turned aside to taste it, and immediately was held fast in the teeth of an iron trap. Hearing her cries of pain and terror, the mother hastened to the spot, and, for a moment, was so bewildered with disappointment and anger that she chastised the cub unmercifully, though the little creature was enduring extreme agony. But directly the old badger recovered from her fit of temper, she sought to make amends by petting and soothing the frightened cub, and trying to remove the trap. Finally, after half an hour's continuous effort, she accidentally found that the trap was connected by a chain with a stake thrust into the ground. Quickly, with all the strength of her muscular fore-paws, she dug up the soil at the end of the chain, and then, with powerful teeth, wrenched the stake from its position. Dragging the cruel trap, the young badger slowly followed her dam homeward, but when she had gone about a hundred yards pain overcame her, and she rolled down a slight incline near the hedge. For a few minutes, she lay helpless; then, grunting hoarsely, she climbed the ditch, and continued her way in the direction of a gap leading into the wood. There, as she gained the top of the hedge, the trap was firmly caught in the stout fork of a thorn-bush. Further progress was impossible ; all her frantic struggles failed to give her freedom. The dam stayed near, vainly endeavouring to release her, till at dawn a rustle was heard in the hedge, and a labourer on his way to the farm came in sight above a hurdle in the gap. Reluctantly, the old badger stole away into the wood, leaving the cub to her fate. It came—a single blow on the nostrils from a stout cudgel—and all was over.
The lesson thus taught left a salutary-impression on the minds of the other cubs. From it they learned that the presence of stale flesh was somehow associated with the peculiar scent of oiled and rusty iron, or with the taint of a human hand, and was fraught with the utmost danger. They somehow felt that their dam acted wisely in rolling over any decaying refuse she happened to find on her way; and later, when Brock, seizing an opportunity to imitate his mother, sprang another trap, which, closing suddenly beneath his back, did no more harm than to rob him of a bunch of fur, they recognised how a menace to their safety might be easily and completely removed by the simple expedient taught them by their careful parent.
Though she invariably took the utmost precaution against danger from baited traps, the old she-badger was nevertheless surprised, almost as much as were the cubs, at the incidents just described. At various times she had sprung more than a dozen traps, but in each case her attention had been directed to the trap only by the scent of iron, or of the human hand. However faint that scent might be, and however mingled with the smell of newly turned earth or of sap from bruised stalks of woodland plants, she immediately detected it, rolled on the spot, and then noted the signs around—the disturbed leaf-mould, and the foot-scent of man leading back among the bilberry bushes, or down the winding paths between the oaks, where, occasionally, she also found faint traces of the hand-scent on bits of lichen, or on rotten twigs, fallen from the grasp of her enemy as he clutched the tree-trunks in his steep descent towards the riverside. But never before had she seen a baited trap. Her dam had never seen one ; her grand-dam had been equally ignorant; and yet both, like herself, had always rolled on any tainted flesh they chanced to come across on their many journeys.
For generations, in this far county of the west, the creatures of the woods, except the fox, had never been systematically hunted. The vicissitudes of history had directly affected the welfare of wild animals. The old professional hunting and fighting classes had become unambitious tenant farmers; and, partly through the operations of an old Welsh law regarding the equal division of property, the land beyond the feudal tracts of the Norman Marches were, in many instances, broken up into small freeholds owned by descendants of the princely families of bygone ages. But hard, incessant work was the lot of tenant and freeholder alike. When the aims and the experiences of the old fighting and sporting days had passed away, and nothing was left but ceaseless toil, these essentially combative people, to whom violent and continuous excitement was the very breath of life, became, for a while at least, knavish and immoral, sunk almost to one dead social level, and totally uninteresting because, in their new life of peaceful tillage —a life far more suited to their English law-givers than to themselves—they were apparently incapable of maintaining that complete, vigilant interest in their ordinary surroundings which makes for enlightenment and success.