Summer draws to a close on Baronsdown
I am pretty certain that they don’t know it, but the badgers that live on the League’s wildlife sanctuaries are the lucky ones. Whilst all around, supposedly protected badgers are being killed under the misguided pretext that this will stop disease in cattle, on the sanctuaries at least they are safe. Although it is clear to everyone that badgers are not to blame, we have recently carried out a vaccination programme of the badgers at Cowley Wood, in collaboration with members of the Somerset Badger Group, whose time and expertise was greatly appreciated. The vaccination programme will continue for the next few years and we plan to extend it to include other sanctuaries in future.
In recent years, some powerful vested interests have been blaming badgers for all sorts of heinous crimes, not least the demise of the UK’s hedgehog population. Apparently, it isn’t the cocktail of poisonous substances that we spread on the earth or the increasing volume of road traffic that is the cause of Mrs Tiggie-Winkle’s downfall, but the presence in her neighbourhood of poor old brock. The fact that the two species have coexisted side by side for millennia seems to have escaped the notice of the accusers, or perhaps they just don’t care. We have been bolstering hedgehog numbers on Baronsdown by releasing a few rehabilitated hedgehogs from the RSPCA’s Wildlife Hospital at West Hatch and I am very pleased to report that they have bred successfully and we now have some little hoglets.
It has been a great year for fruit, seeds and nuts and the trees and hedgerows around the sanctuaries are still dripping with ripe, red berries. The apple trees in the millennium orchard on Baronsdown are heavily laden with fruit, most of which will be left for the wildlife to enjoy. Larger mammals, such as deer and badgers can feast on the fallen fruit, while their smaller compatriots, such as hedgehogs, will feed on the insects that are eating the apples. Proof that, given the chance, nature will make the most of every opportunity. However, flailing hedges into tidy lines at this time of year deprives birds and small mammals of the vital food they need to sustain them throughout the winter.
We are still a couple of weeks away from the start of the annual Red Deer rut, but already we have been visited by a few stags who have left their calling card of musky scent on likely trees and in muddy puddles. The smell is an acquired taste, but it definitely seems to work on the female hinds. This is always a tense time, as we hope that some mature stags make it through the cordon of deer hunters and shooters to the sanctuaries to sire the next generation.