Scottish Badger Week 2020 - Day 4 The Real Badgers of...

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Photo: Allan Bantick

The way we monitor setts has changed somewhat, with new technology such as trail cameras allowing us to see what exactly badgers get up to when it would otherwise be too dark for humans to watch.

Over on our Facebook page we'll be sharing different videos compiled by our talented volunteers using trail camera footage, with clans from Aigas in the Highlands, to urban South Lanarkshire.

Volunteer Sophie has been monitoring a number of local setts in South Lanarkshire with trail cameras, and shares with us a story from one of these clans. A badger's life isn't easy, and sadly humans are in largest part to blame for this. We asked Sophie some questions about her monitoring:

Interviews with a Scottish Badgers volunteer

What started your interest with badgers?

As a zoology student at the time, I had always been keen to learn anything I could. I knew nothing about badgers before getting involved. I previously worked with a separate survey group led by an ecologist. This is when I got to meet volunteers from Scottish Badgers and hear their experiences. From then on, I was encouraged to get involved repeatedly by Lesley - another volunteer. I got involved in the Badgers in the Landscape South Lanarkshire project in January 2018. I learned about badgers, surveying, crime and using trail cameras. I have never looked back!

How long have you been monitoring this clan for?

I took on monitoring about a year and a half ago. I have been monitoring with a trail camera for just over a year. There was a lot to be learned in that time!

What has been the best bits from monitoring here?

Cubs! Always the cubs! I really enjoyed watching them grow. From just suckling and starting to play, to taking on more adult behaviours and learning the best way to do things (like how and how not to take bedding down to the sett!). Sometimes, the adults would get on with housework, and the cubs would be nearby doing anything but... Kids will be kids after all!

Is using a trail camera easy? How do you know where to put it?

My first thoughts were very much the same. Is this going to be hard? How much learning is involved?

Trail cameras are very simple, and you learn quick! I spent a lot of time practicing with other peoples, under their watchful eye of course! After plenty of practice, I plucked up the courage to get my own. I know people who have very high-tech expensive ones, and again they said they were easy to manage and use! I then proceeded to use 6 for my research project!

Where to put? Well that is a good question. A lot of cameras have around a 20m distance infrared beam length. Going with that somewhere close but not right beside an entrance or area of interest. Too close and its too bright, too far away and its too dark. I usually aim for a tree around 5 - 10m away. The camera in the video is around 5 – 10m away from the area of interest. Also ensure that it is on a stable surface like a tree or fence, something that does not really move in the wind and doesn’t have much around to cause false triggers. Believe me there is nothing worse that raiding through 200 clips of a leaf, twig or the grass blowing in the wind... I have made that mistake a few times!

Are the other clans you monitor similar in behaviour or have you noticed any differences between them?

I co-monitor a second clan with my partner, I do the cameras and he takes the records and photos. My own clan have 5 at the current moment, they did have 11 when the cubs came above ground. His only has a sow, boar and last years cub, so it is a small social group. Some behaviours are different especially around the cub, she was on her own and only had mum to play with! Others are similar like grooming, scent marking etc. I have had cameras or helped others with cameras at other setts and again I have seen a wide range of behaviours – some even had full on fights with each other (something badgers don’t often do!). Every clan is unique in some way or another, that’s just badgers for you!

What’s been your favourite badger moment?

There has been a few! From discovering that badgers love a golf or football to some rather strange findings (like finding a python by a sett entrance – it was dead, but we took it to the SSPCA for sure as we did question if it was still alive!).

My most favourite must be the plant pot mad cubs! During the 6 weeks of footage recording for my project, I recorded a sett with 4 mad cubs. They even used their rhododendron home as their obstacle course! During 1 of the weeks, I discovered a plant pot wedged into one of the entrances. There was no footage for evidence of how it got there, but I left it for a few weeks! After a week, I proceeded to remove it and sit it between the two entrances! Well within 12 minutes of the cubs emerging, the plant pot rolled over the head of a cub and back into the other entrance. From that day on we knew the culprits! They definitely brought a smile to everyone’s face!

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