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.
Even in our own densely peopled land, there are out of the way districts in which human footsteps are seldom heard and many rare wild creatures flourish unmolested. Near such parts the naturalist delights to dwell, in touch, on one side, with subjects that deserve his patient study, and, on the other side, with kindly country folk, who, perhaps, supply him with food, and are the means of communication between him and the strenuous world. In this western county, however, the naturalist, in order to gain expert knowledge, does not need to live on the fringe of civilisation. Here, among the scattered upland farms around the old village, creatures that would elsewhere be in daily danger because of their supposed attacks on game are almost entirely free from persecution. In several of our woods, polecats seem to be more numerous than stoats, and badgers are known, but only to the persistent observer, to be more common than foxes; and both polecats and badgers are seldom disturbed, though the farmers may regularly pass their burrows.
The immunity of such animals from harm is, to some extent, the result of the farmer's lack of interest in their doings. He strongly resents the presence of too many rabbits on his land, "scratching" the soil, spoiling the hedges, and devouring the young crops, and, therefore, cherishes no grudge against their enemies so long as his stock is unmolested. He is no ardent protector of game, and, if a clutch of eggs disappears from the pheasant's nest he has chanced to discover in the woods, thinks little about the incident, and concludes that Ned the blacksmith's broody hen has probably been requisitioned as a foster-mother, and that some day he will know more of the true state of affairs when he visits the smithy at the cross-roads.
Another circumstance to which the badger hereabouts is indebted for security-is that terriers are not the favourite dogs of the countryside. When shooting, the sportsman prefers spaniels, particularly certain "strains" of black and brown cockers — untiring little workers with a keen, true power of scent—which for many years have been common in the neighbourhood ; and the farmer's sheep-dog is unfitted for any sport except rabbiting. Here and there, among the poaching fraternity, may be found a mongrel fondly imagined by its owner to be a terrier—a good rabbit "marker," and wonderfully quick in killing rats, but no more suited than the sportman's spaniel for "lying up" with a badger.
Undoubtedly, however, the security of some of our most interesting wild animals, and especially of the badger, is to be accounted for by their extreme shyness. They venture abroad only when the shadows of night He over the woods. For countless years, dogs and men have been their greatest foes, and their fear of them is found to be almost as strong in remote districts as where, near towns, their existence is continually threatened. Wild life in our quiet valley will be deemed of unusual interest when I say that less than six hours before writing these lines I visited a badger's "set"—a deep underground hollow with several main passages and upper galleries, where, as I have good reason to believe, a fox also dwells —an otter's "holt" beneath gnarled alder-roots fringing the river-bank, and another fox's "earth," all on the outskirts of a wooded belt not more than a mile from my home, and all showing signs of having long been inhabited.
Unless systematically persecuted, the fox, the otter, and the badger cling to their respective haunts with such tenacity that, season after season, they prowl along the same familiar paths through the woods or by the river, and rear their young in the same retreats. This is the case especially with the badger; from the traditions of the countryside, as well as from the careful observation of sporting landowners, it may be learned that for generations certain inaccessible "sets" have seldom, if ever, been uninhabited. Always at nightfall the "little man in grey" has climbed the slanting passage from his cave-like chamber, ten or—if among the boulders of some ancient cairn—even from twenty to thirty feet below the level of the soil, and sniffed the cool evening air, and listened intently for the slightest sound of danger, before departing on his well worn trail to hunt and forage in the silent upland pastures. And with the first glimpse of light, when the hare stole past towards her "form," and the fox, a shadowy figure drifting through the haze of early dawn, returned to the dense darkness of the lonely wood, he has sought his daytime snuggery of leaves and grass industriously gathered from the littered glades.
In a deep burrow at the foot of a hill, about a quarter of a mile from a farmstead built on a declivity at a bend of the broad river, Brock, the badger, was born, one morning about the middle of spring. Three other sucklings, like himself blind and wholly dependent on their parents' care, shared his couch of hay and leaves. Day by day, the mother badger, devoted to their welfare, fed and tended her unusually numerous offspring, lying beside them on the comfortable litter, while the sire, occupying a snug corner of the ample bed, dozed the lazy hours away; and evening after evening, when twilight deepened into darkness as night descended on the woods, she arose, shook a few seed-husks from her coat, and with her mate adjourned to an upper gallery leading to the main opening of the "set," whence, assured that no danger lurked in the neighbourhood of their home, both stole out to forage in the clearings and among the thickets on the brow of the hill.
Just as with Lutra, the little otter-cub in the "holt" above the river's brim, the first weeks of babyhood passed uneventfully, so with Brock, the badger, nothing of interest occurred till his eyes gradually opened, and he could enjoy with careless freedom the real beginning of his woodland life. Even thus early, what may be called the nocturnal instinct was strong within him. He was alert and playful chiefly at night, when, deep in the underground hollow, nothing could be heard of the outer world but the indistinct, monotonous wail of the wind in the upper passages of the "set." Droll, indeed, were the revels of the young badgers when the parents were hunting far away. The little creatures, awakened from a heavy sleep that had followed the last fond attentions of their mother, were loath to frolic at once with each other in the lonely, silent chamber. In their parents' absence they felt unsafe; that mysterious whisper of admonition, unheard but felt, which is the voice of the all-pervading spirit of the woods forever warning the kindred of the wild, bade them be quiet till the dawn should bring the mother badger to the lair once more. So, huddled close, they were for a time satisfied with a strangely deliberate game of " King of the Castle," the castle being an imaginary place in the middle of their bed. Towards that spot each player pushed quietly, but vigorously, one or other gaining a slight advantage now and again by grunting an unexpected threat into the ear of a near companion, or by bestowing an unexpected nip on the flank of the cub that held for the moment the coveted position of king. Withal this was a sober pastime, unless Brock, the strongest and most determined member of the family, chanced to provoke his playmates beyond endurance, and caused a general, reckless scramble, in which tiny white teeth were bared and tempers were uncontrolled.