When my wife Jill and I moved into our current home in Staffordshire in 2004, one of the things that we did not realise was that the area of countryside surrounding our home had a high population of Badgers. This is not really that surprising as the status of the local Badger population had not featured on the pre-sale enquiries we had made of the builder who sold us the house (if we move again it may!). In fact, my first ever sighting of a live, wild Badger came one night shortly after we moved into our new home as the lights of my car picked up a Badger by the side of the single track lane that leads to the house. I later discovered that there is a Badger sett in the field less than 50 metres from this lane, that the Badgers living in it follow a well worn path across the field to the lane and across it to other fields where they forage for food.
Fast forward six years to 2010 and my combined passions for the natural world and photography had taken hold. I was out one afternoon looking for Brown Hares in the local fields when my eye was drawn to movement in a field of clover. To my surprise, what I had hoped was a Hare turned out to be a young Badger cub grubbing for worms. Not only was this cub out in daylight but it was out at just after 3pm in the afternoon!
The next two afternoons and evenings were spent with this young cub photographing it in this field of clover grass. So tolerant was it of my presence, that it approached so close as to push its nose inside the hood of the lens that was attached to my camera, leaving it covered in its slabber. It also fell asleep in the clover with me close by. This turned out to be the last time I would spend with this cub as the next day we were away on holiday for two weeks and on my return there were no further sightings of it.
Whilst short-lived, what this initial encounter with this young cub ignited was a love of Badgers and a passion for photographing them that has at times verged on being an obsession. I have now been working on photographing Badgers using natural light for the last six years. Now this may not sound that difficult but when you factor in that Badgers are at best typically crepuscular (i.e. active during twilight) and at worst nocturnal, you start to get an understanding of what is involved. Add in disturbance from people and other animals (cows in particular find photographers very interesting and have a habit of surrounding you just as the light gets good and the Badgers become active), and you start to understand how difficult this task is. Over these years, I have spent many long hours waiting in vain for the Badgers to put in an appearance, been chased out of fields by herds of delinquent bullocks and had to deal with other obstructions.
Whilst there have been many frustrations and numerous nights when I have come home without having seen a Badger let alone photographed one, there have been many occasions when it has all come together and I have been fortunate to spend time with Badgers and to witness and photograph their behaviour.
I have been very fortunate in that one of my neighbours and his family have allowed me to have access to the land on their farm which has several Badger setts, including one particularly large sett. This sett has a very large family of Badgers that have at times been active in the early evening. Due to its size and location, the sett offers a variety of very different photographic opportunities.
Whilst most of my time has been spent at this sett with just one family of Badgers, I have also worked at several other setts that have offered different photographic opportunities.
Whilst I have been fortunate to find Badgers active late in the afternoon or in the early evening when the light levels are high, I have also spent a lot of time photographing at dusk as the light levels are dropping. My approach is to continue photographing until it becomes too dark to see the Badgers. The current generations of digital cameras allow images to be made in very low levels of light and at high iso settings, with autofocus working incredibly well in these conditions. Hopefully, future generations of cameras will have further improvements in these areas.
With the light levels dropping at dusk, there comes a point when I deliberately start to underexpose the images in order to more accurately reflect what I am actually seeing. The amount of underexposure I apply varies. Two stops of underexpose (-2ev) is generally a good starting point but on occasions I will decrease this to up to three stops of underexposure (-3ev). As well as accurately reflecting the conditions as seen, by applying underexposure at a given aperture and iso, the shutter speed will increase allowing photography to continue as the light levels drop.
In light of the current problems with Bovine Tuberculosis (BVT) in cattle, the future of Badgers in England is uncertain. Despite the scientific evidence that culling the Badger population will not reduce the incidence of BVT in cattle, trial culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset nevertheless recently went ahead. Despite these trial culls fortunately failing to achieve their target numbers of Badgers to be culled and the cost per Badger shot being £3,350, there has been no statement from the current Government abandoning the culling of Badgers as a means of tackling BVT in cattle.
Living in a farming community and having friends and neighbours who are farmers, I am acutely aware of the problems posed by BVT in cattle. In light of the scientific evidence and the inhumanity of culling, I am vehemently opposed to culling Badgers as a means of dealing with BVT. The only scientific and humane solution for BVT in cattle is to develop, and permit the use of, an effective vaccine for BVT for cattle.
Working with and photographing wild Badgers is challenging but incredibly rewarding. Over the past six years I have been privileged to spend time with and to have been given an insight into the life of these beautiful and sentient animals. I have watched as: Badgers participated in family bonding after emerging from their setts; a young cub suckled from its mother; cubs played roughly with each other, rolling around the floor in a ball of fur; and have been approached by curious but unafraid Badgers. I hope to be able to continue working with wild Badgers over the coming years and to continue sharing the images I make of them.