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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
'The mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He sounded by all accounts to be such an important personage, and, though rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place'.*
To many people the badger is as elusive as badger was to mole in 'Wind in the Willows'. A similar lack of knowledge has resulted in a National Badger Survey.
In 'A Vertebrate Fauna of Sutherland Caithness and West Cromarty' by J. A. Harvie-Brown and T. E. Buckley 1887, it is supposed that badgers were extinct or nearly so in the Tongue district, and there are no records at all for badgers in Caithness. About 150 years ago it is reported that the Tongue badgers had all been killed off by fall traps.
Badgers were introduced to Tongue by the hotel keeper Mr. John Mackenzie in 1920. A pair escaped; the sow was pregnant and went into Kyle Woods. There has been a report of a badger eating a dead seal in winter in Tongue. Young badgers have been reported sleeping in the straw in barns. Another unlikely venue for badgers is Tongue Post Office. A single hole appeared under the Post Office in the winter of 1974-75. During the height of the summer a visitor's terrier went under the Post Office disrupting business. Information from Mr.John Rae, a retired gamekeeper has led to the discovery of several badger setts in the vicinity of Tongue.
Identification of a badger's sett can not always be certain. This information given by Elizabeth Farquhason of Edinburgh might be of some use. First decide who had made the hole or holes. If you stretch your hand, the distance from the top of your thumb to the top of your little finger will be about eight inches for a woman and nine inches for a man. Slip your arm down the hole and if it becomes narrower than your outstretched hand then it is a rabbit's hole. If it is eight inches or more it is most unlikely to have been made by rabbits except in very sandy soil, and will either be a fox or a badger.
If the sett is occupied by a fox it will have a characteristic smell. There may be remains of food close to the entrance, chickens rabbits, birds, etc., whereas a badger does not carry food back to the sett. A fox is not as clean as a badger and will leave droppings at the entrance. Points which indicate a badger's sett are mounds of earth mixed with bedding, thrown out beside the sett, no food remains and no droppings. Badgers dig latrines nearby. Badger's hairs are sometimes to be found amongst the surface earth inside the sett. They have a distinct colour pattern - dark in the middle and light at the base and tip. During a snowfall in winter, tracks would be another positive indication.
The information which the badger survey asks for, is a sketch map of the area showing the configuration of the ground, the vegetation, the nearest water supply, and the number of used and unused entrances and notes of any previous history. Most of the sites were on alluvial soil, by rivers and streams. We are of the opinion that it is the type of soil which governs the selection of the sett, in Caithness, rather than the altitude or cover or position of the nearest water supply.
One of the best known sites in Caithness is on a river bank in the parish of Latheron, and has been known for at least twelve years. It is 9 metres from the river under birch and bracken with eleven well used entrances.
Badgers appear to be on the increase in Caithness. There have been reports from Mr. Cameron of Mey of a badger which he caught by accident while looking for fox cubs in Freswick. There have also been reports of a badger crossing the road in Mey. We know of twelve setts in the county.
Recent publicity has been given to bovine tuberculosis in certain badger populations in the West Country. Consequently attempts have been made to eradicate badgers where there is a risk that they will infect cattle.
We are indebted to a number of people. especially Miss E. R. Bullard of Orkney. It is hoped that this tentative survey will encourage others to look for badger setts in the county, and we would be very pleased to hear of any sightings in either Caithness or Sutherland.
* P46 - 'Wind in the Willows' by Kenneth Grahame.
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