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Nature’s own pest-control system is best

Outdoor Living

SHY TYPE Largely nocturnal, badgers are shy, retiring animals that live in large social groups called clans.

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

James stood at the door, his hand subconsciously reaching for the handle time and again. “It’s just too easy to sit inside and look out through the window at this time of year. Badgers have moved into the far wood, where they haven’t been in years. And there are otters under the bridge at Hollymount....” His voice trailed away. He’s been like an old hound, whining and pawing to get out for a walk and, as I told him, he can go if he wants. He knows his own way home.
That’s unkind though, for he’s right. It is too easy to sleep the winter away or to watch the world unwind from the comfort of an easy chair. Perhaps we still get a good dose of wildlife, especially if we put out food for the birds and a few scraps for anything else that might be in the vicinity. Almost all animals appreciate a free feed to help them through these cold nights – although I must say we’ve had worse weather in June.
James is concerned about the possibility of attracting rats and mice. And of course, it’s true that these small animals will find anything left within reach. They enjoy peanuts as much as any bird ever did, and are a natural consequence of enticing more desirable species.
Of all these, the brown rat is unquestionably the most destructive and the least welcome. Bear in mind that nobody ever saw a small rat – they are all ‘the size of cats’. Nor did anyone ever know a rat that didn’t carry every disease under the sun. They have certainly been given bad press, but I feel it has not been totally warranted.
It might be hard to think of any benefits of having rats in the garden, and impossible when it comes to having them in the house.
James is full of facts. “There are more rats than humans in every town in Ireland,” he says, and adds, “You’re never more than 12 feet away from a rat” – with a fearful glance into the briars and an almost audible shudder.
He feeds them poison, something I am loath to do. Those little blue blocks so readily obtained from agricultural stores will be eaten by animals other than rodents, and those rats and mice that do succumb to poisoning often choose to die in the open where their bodies can be easily found by other animals and birds, which also become sick. Foxes will eat poisoned rodents, as will stoats, pine martens and even hedgehogs.
So we walked to the lake under a pale sky, with yellow sunshine lighting our way. The pocket of James’s coat was filled with flaked maize, which he distributed as we made our way along the road. Small birds took an immediate interest. Two cock blackbirds, their plumage dull and bills devoid of colour, made a show of standing off before settling to fill their crops. A robin followed us, pausing only to pick up a crumb or two and evidently hoping for something more tasty, and a family of tits swung through the roadside trees, wanting a share yet uncomfortable with the notion of feeding on the floor.
We found the badger’s sett and looked it over. Freshly excavated soil told us there were animals in residence. We found a number of long twigs and wedged one across each of the sett entrances. By tomorrow morning we will know which ones are used - the sticks will be dislodged - and have an idea where to set the trap camera. Badgers are impossibly shy creatures and difficult to get to know, and any information gleaned by that motion-sensitive camera ought to be very interesting.
James emptied his pocket to leave two small piles of maize at the side of the path for whatever would get there first. If he’s right about rats the grain won’t be there for long.
Something light scuttled through the ground ivy. A wood mouse, I reckon. It wouldn’t be long before the sweet scent of food reached his little nose, and then he’d be busy, storing it all away beneath a dead root close to his nest.
The badger has a good sense of smell too, and is rather fond of a wood mouse snack. That’s one mouse that won’t get as far as the front door. Perhaps pest control should be consistently a long distance affair, using nature’s own exterminators.