Country diary: The badgers dug their own HS2 overnight

<span>Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Tony Watson/Alamy

There are two species of troglodyte at my Fairy Hill Croft in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, the wren and the badger, and they both made themselves known last week after I cut back and “laid” my sprawling hawthorn hedge. The overgrown hawthorn, beech, holly hedges and grapevines were blocking my 360-degree view of the forests, hills and stone walls that lace the pastures together here and draw the eye south to the mountains of Cumbria.

The jack-in-the-box wren gave out a “chip, chip, chip” from the naked hawthorn that no longer afforded anonymity; a tiny thing of beauty dipping like a wagtail, stubby tail at a jaunty angle.

The badgers, meanwhile, inhabit two huge setts either side of the croft, one on the burn side beneath an oak, the other towards the westward woods, both watched by a pair of buzzards and red kites; I’m bang in the middle. The badgers are regular visitors; just passing through or picking up the titbits I leave out. One large male walked past me at dusk, unperturbed and snuffling as he went.

With the hedge now down to 5ft and the understorey cleared of dead branches, leaf mould and briars, the stubby tree trunks stand out like a prop forward’s legs, with retained branches “trained” to cover any gaps. Like any good crofter, I harvested logs for the fire, made charcoal for drawing, and picked the berries to make my secret recipe of hawthorn and rowan syrup.

After excavating nettle rhizomes that measured fully 4ft long, and rafts of impenetrable grasses, I unwittingly opened the badger’s favourite pantry and the irresistible smell of fresh earth and vegetation on to the wind. This attracted both groups for an overnight digging party, taking their chance for an opportunistic feed.

Next morning, HS2 was alive and well. A remarkable feat of civil engineering with holes on both sides of the hedge, one side collapsing into a field where a couple of Aberdeen Angus cows nuzzled a football-sized conglomerate boulder, made of moraine from the last ice age.

The badgers returned the next night, grubbed more tubers and gnawed exposed hawthorn roots, but there was no further devastation. I returned the stones to their resting place, back-filled the tunnels and shored up the banking. The badgers had claimed their “herbage” – the rights of pasture on another man’s land – but thankfully the grapes were safe.

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