Animal Encounters in the Meadow

‘We Made a Wildflower Meadow’ by Yvette Verner tells the story of a small patch of land transformed into a bountiful haven for nature, encouraging wildlife and helping to sustain a fragile ecosystem. Published in 2019

In this final extract Yvette shares the joys of meadow-watching and the wide array of wildlife likely to stroll into an un-disturbed space. Featuring a shadowy fox, some handsome deer and many midnight badgers!

Meadow-watching is an international pastime. A holiday trip to a neighbouring district or country, for instance, is likely to present an opportunity to admire a fresh selection of flowering meadows. Even if it is not the flowering season, however, any meadow with a sound ecological balance will have its own particular range of resident and visiting animals to observe.

Our seemingly bare small field has turned out to be home territory for a variety of wild creatures. For the less than energetic, it may be encouraging to note that we observed most of these whilst relaxing comfortably in quiet moments. Wildlife-watching is by no means all hard work.  

Badgers are one of Britain’s most popular animals. They have broad paws and regular habits, so in suitable surroundings any track of beaten earth about four inches (10 cm.) wide and with clearance of about one foot (30 cm.) above, is likely to belong to a badger. The discovery of a badger track emerging from our blackthorn bushes was an early pleasant surprise. Worms are their favourite food, but fruit and nuts are also popular, so we began leaving out a dish of peanuts and sultanas each evening, which was quickly cleared. I should add that the whole question of feeding badgers is controversial: some people argue that this can create dependency and encourage the animals to be less wary of humans than they normally are. However, we are of the opinion that, in moderation, supplementing their diet with foods such as sultanas and uncooked, unsalted peanuts does little harm and helps support them through the harsh months of the winter.  

Naturally we were curious to see if it really was a badger eating the sultanas, since we had no wish to be nurturing a family of rats. However our customers were elusive, and it was not until our shed was installed a year later that we were able to sit and watch in comfort. Even then our evening visits were unproductive, for the actual badger sett was evidently some way off.  

Peter the pheasant

In April, when the weather was warmer, we determined to stay up all night if necessary to finally solve the mystery. Tucked up in sleeping bags on deckchairs, Mike and I snuggled down to wait. We were dozing off just after 10 p.m. when we were awoken by a munching sound. Fully awake now, we watched enthralled through the shed window as a fully grown badger devoured his snack with relish, overturning the dish to look for any left-overs beneath. We gave him time to trot safely away, before tiptoeing cheerily home ourselves. 

Following this observation, we decided to hide the sultanas beneath the earthenware dish, rather than on top of it, so that squirrels and other animals would not get to the fruit first. Once we found the correct weight of dish this worked a treat. Subsequently, my father kindly fitted a time switch with underground wiring beneath the feeding dish, protected by a sturdy wooden block and connected to a small battery clock in the shed. When the dish is pushed off by a visiting badger, the circuit is broken and the clock stops. We have found that during the winter, badgers are likely to arrive at any time from 10.30 p.m. to 5.30 a.m., so we restrict our badger-watching to the more predictable (and warmer) summer nights, when the shorter hours of darkness bring them out between about 8.30 p.m. and midnight. 

This is not to imply that badger-watching is a precise science. Many are the times we have had to give up and go home without see ing anything. However, it’s well worth the effort for the occasions when we are lucky. One warm evening in July we were patiently waiting when sounds of a funfair in the nearby town made us doubt anything would appear. However at dusk a slim female badger emerged, and having nosed the dish aside, began to munch the food. Fireworks suddenly exploded in the sky above, and she ran for cover. A few minutes later she reappeared and brought a cub with her. We were glad of their prominent white face markings, as (apart from during firework displays) it was difficult to make out their furry grey bodies in the gloom. (This problem has subsequently been overcome by my father installing a subdued light, operated by a car battery, fixed inside the shed window.) The sow badger stepped back after a while, letting the youngster eat his fill, then they both trotted away across the meadow.  

A large boar badger, resembling a shaggy grey doormat, then emerged from the bushes and proceeded to finish off the few sultanas that had been overlooked by the cub. His black rubbery nose detected them in no time. Then he snuffled out a few worms from the grass and strolled off into the night.  

Another occasion on which Mike and I decided to go badger watching was after the first really sunny day in May. We walked quietly up the lane at dusk, trying not to look like potential burglars. The setting sun was a purple smudge on the horizon as we settled ourselves into the shed, wrapping blankets from the tin trunk warmly around us, for the heat of the day soon dissipates. After a while our eyes adjusted to the gloom and our minds to the peace and quiet, broken only by the barking of a distant dog, and then the echoing hoot of a hunting tawny owl. 

Fox prints

Imagination plays tricks on you at times like this. Is that some thing moving in the bushes, or just tall grass swaying? Is somebody lurking by the gate, or is it just the gatepost? What is that horned creature standing inside our fence? This last mirage did have some substance, for when the full moon sailed out from behind a cloud it revealed the presence of a pair of roe deer. Silhouetted against the sky, they looked magnificently mediæval and heraldic, but knowl edge of the damage deer do to young trees muted our admiration. As suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. If it had not been for hoofprints visible the following day, we could almost have put their visit down to our imagination.  

The deer had arrived at 9.30 p.m.; a quarter of an hour later we were surprised to see a fox appear out of the gloom and head towards our shed. He stopped before us to nibble a few spilt titbits, but was too cautious to stay long. 

Then at 10.15 p.m. a badger appeared and tipped over the earth enware dish to reveal the provisions hidden beneath. A fully-grown male, his black and white facial stripes showed up splendidly, but the rest of him can best be described as all nose and bottom, as his mobile black nose searched out every juicy morsel and his shaggy grey bottom swayed with delight as he tucked in to his supper. It took quite a while for the platter to be literally licked clean. Striding over to the birdbath, he stood up on his hind legs and lapped the water noisily, then disappeared into the bushes. 

We were chilled by now, but entranced by our evening’s viewing, which had made up for several other occasions when nothing turned up until after we had gone home. Indeed, we had our suspicions that animals waited until we got fed up, then rushed out to make merry in the meadow as we disappeared into the distance. Tonight, how ever, we went home very cheerily. Waiting for wildlife can sometimes be like waiting for a bus: nothing turns up for ages, then several arrive at once.

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