So those of you paying attention last week will have noticed that I said I volunteered for three days but only described what I did on two of the days. The day that I haven’t yet described was my favourite of the three, as it was both something new and also helped a cause I feel quite strongly about; I was helping Staffordshire Wildlife Trust as they started their badger vaccination programme.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently you should, to some extent, be aware of the major ongoing row about how is best to deal with badgers and the fact that some individuals carry bovine TB. Despite the scientific evidence, that shows that a cull can increase the spread of bTB as culling disrupts social structure and can cause badgers to change territories, culling trials have gone ahead in Somerset and Gloucestershire. I could at this point go into a very long rant about why the carrying out of this cull makes me so angry but if you do a quick internet search you will find many well argued and scientifically backed pieces explaining why the cull is such a bad idea. If you want to, then I suggest reading some of these, as they probably cover the important points more eloquently than I can, and a rant isn’t the reason I’m writing this post (at least today anyway).
As can probably be expected, given that their logo is a beautiful stripy Brock face, the Wildlife Trusts are firmly opposed to the cull (You can read about their position regarding the badger cull here). When I got the email from Staffs Wildlife Trust asking if I wanted to help out with their vaccination programme I jumped at the chance. I knew that it was highly unlikely that there would be any chance of seeing a badger as we’d be working in the day and doing all the preliminary work that goes in before any badgers are actually caught or vaccinated, but I was more then happy to know that I was contributing in my own way to a worthwhile cause.
Last Monday saw a group of us volunteers, with some of the Trust staff, at one of the nature reserves, laden with traps, shovels and peanuts. The areas had been scouted out before hand by reserve staff who had identified where entrances to the sett were and the ‘runs’ used by the badgers. Badgers tend to follow the same walking routes when outside their setts (known as runs) which appear as small paths in the surrounding vegetation. The traps were to be places alongside these runs so that they could easily be found by the badgers.
To set a trap a shallow area of soil the same size of the trap is first dug up. The trap is placed in this shallow hole. This helps prevent the trap from rolling, especially once a badger is in it. The soil is then replaced over the floor of the cage to make it feel more natural for the badgers on their feet. We were putting the traps there days before any vaccination was due to take place, so that the badgers had plenty of time to get used to these strange new structures that had suddenly appeared in their territory. To make sure none were accidentally caught in the trap they were wired open. The traps are only set to catch badgers the night before vaccination is due to take place.
As badgers can be a bit nervous about new goings on around their homes each trap had plenty of peanuts left nearby it under a rock to tempt the badgers to investigate. Every day that the traps remain at the sight, peanuts are moved closer and closer to the traps until they are eventually placed inside so that the badgers become used to them and, fingers crossed, are happy to go into them when it’s time to vaccinate.
Over the course of the day we visited three different setts, setting up to ten traps outside each one.
As vaccination takes place in the early hours of the morning I haven’t been able to help out with that part yet. However if you want to keep track of how the programme goes Staffordshire Wildlife Trust are keeping an on-line diary of the vaccination programme on their Facebook page which you can check out here (if you look closely at the picture for day 1 you may even spot me!). There are also plans to vaccinate at another site and a small chance that I may be able to help with the actual vaccination at that one so there may be some more badger related posts (and photos if I’m lucky) in the very near future!
If you want to contribute to vaccinating badgers you can donate to the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Badger vaccination appeal here.