After the badgers

This wood is alive. You can smell it. Rich, heady aromas of soil and leaves; the fresh astringent scent of trodden grass and ivy. When you look down, you can see why. There are small, oval scrapings everywhere; on one slope they seem to have been made in neatly ordered rows. Badgers.

They’ve turned the earth around the wood, aerated it, shredded and tossed the leaves, rotating the layers, as any good gardener would, for maximum fertility. The leaves are breaking down; the soil clear for growth. There are bustling trails through the grass and round the trees, fragmenting the twigs and fallen branches. Round-bottomed slides make easy paths down to the river.

Around the setts, old hay has been neatly raked out and left to dry; impressive excavations, the height of a human, have left cascades of fresh, damp soil waiting for worms, and birds. Away from the main trails, latrines have been carefully dug; the contents are full of shoots and seeds, spread and ready to grow again.

This wood, by contrast, is dead. The leaves are lying flat: dry, unmoved. The trails are cluttered, unused. The soil is left undisturbed, cracked and hard. The wood smells of nothing. And you can hear the absence of life as clearly as you can hear the silence after a car alarm stops.

The badgers in this sett have been killed already. A remarkable edifice, a feat of engineering, the sett must have been used for decades, possibly a century. Now, desiccated leaves are filling up the holes. Further down, in another empty sett, a cobweb has been spun across an entrance.

Animals can sense, and avoid, carnage. Try riding a horse past an abattoir. It’s possible that this wood will come alive again, with something. But the badgers here have gone. Up to forty-two thousand badgers will, in this latest government cull alone. No-one officially knows what the results will be of removing one of our oldest species from the eco-system, yet. An increase in foxes, scientists guess: a drop in hares. But in the meantime, nature’s gardeners have gone. And this wood is dead.

Tabitha Troughton is an author and environmentalist.