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Prize plums, vexed wasps and a brave burglar

Outdoor Living

SWEET TOOTH Having a badger visit is quite a privilege

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

Isn’t it always the way? For weeks I had been watching my Opal plums, determined that the wasps, which descended upon the Victorias in huge numbers and ate the lot in one August week, would not get so much as a look in. They were ripening nicely, and although not particularly tasty they would be far better than no plums at all. When the first fell from the tree I knew I should pick the lot, but when I went to do just that I found the wasps were already there, clustering around the best of the fruit.
No matter. They were so absorbed in what they were doing they’d hardly notice me at all. And at first they didn’t. Perhaps I should have taken no more than my share and we could have parted on good terms. But no, I wanted that bunch of plums on the high branch. They were just out of reach, of course, which meant I had to pull the branch down a bit. All went well until it broke and sprang back into place, firing dozens of wasps in every direction. To say they were displeased would be an understatement.
The first and most aggressive insect was met with a firm backhander which sent it to the floor. Rather unwisely, I flattened it with the heel of my boot and instantly knew I had made a mistake. Troubled wasps, and crushed ones especially, release a chemical signal that lets the rest know they might be imperilled. These ferocious little beasts were never known for quiet patience, and once brought into a state of agitation they are best left to themselves.
As I fled from the back garden to the front the angry stream behind encouraged a goodly pace until I found myself cornered at a locked front door. I did my best to keep the furious crowd at bay, flailing arms and spouting invective, then who should come along but Mrs B, dear Mrs B, with her happy smile and pleasing countenance. Perhaps she thought I gave a friendly wave, for she gave one back. Then I think she overheard my expressions of displeasure and perhaps imagined my wild gesticulations and coarse language might be directed at her good self. Now I must explain and apologise at the first opportunity.
She never appears in moments of normality. This day she displayed a surprising turn of speed as she sped off with not so much as a backward glance.
I managed to avoid being stung, which partly made up for having to leave my basket of fruit beneath the tree. Wasps! I had tolerated them all summer, and this was how they chose to repay me. Well, we’d soon see about that. I knew where they had their nest, in a hole in the bank. As autumn progresses they would likely prove more and more troublesome. I would sort them out, root them out of it, put an end to their games once and for all.
The next morning I ventured back, hoping to recover my fruit, only to find the basket empty and hardly a single plum left on the tree. This happened before, when our pine marten pair stole our entire crop in a matter of days. Could we have another marten? The answer was provided in the form of a large, plum coloured scat placed on the path as a sort of thank you.
There were no wasps to be seen either. I went to look at their nest hole and found it torn apart. So not only do we have a pine marten, we also have a badger, for no other Irish animal has the courage, means or appetite to attack a nest of wasps.
Having a badger visit is quite a privilege. It might be possible to encourage him, or possibly them, to keep calling. I already put waste food out most evenings, in the hope of attracting whatever wild things are passing by. I had thought we had a fox dropping in and setting off the motion-sensitive outside light at all hours. Each time I look there is nothing there, but whatever I offer is always gone by morning.
Badgers have been given bad press over the years, the blame for the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis being firmly placed at their feet. Perhaps they do spread the disease, but they don’t cause it. In the UK badgers are being culled left, right and centre, yet there is no reduction in TB outbreaks. A badger!