Badgers And Squirrels


Reports from badger-watchers in south Dublin tell that winter has set in and this means for the badgers not hibernation but a reluctance to travel any distance in search of food. A couple of months ago, or less, the sound of the first handful of monkey-nuts and bread landing at the edge of the shrubbery would have one white-striped head edging out of the shadows, often followed immediately by a second. By the time the provider had got back indoors he could look out the window and see three, four or five hoovering over the grass. For the past few weeks, hardly any showings. In fact, in the morning there are a couple of magpies or pigeons or both pecking away at last night's offering. Badgers don't hibernate, we are told, but in mid-winter they stay nearer to their setts. They don't need so much food to sustain them, having stored fat in the summer and autumn. You miss them, the badger-man said, but they'll be back.

Grey squirrels up in Meath, according to another correspondent, are now less visible at the bird feeders. But still there, he thinks. Or maybe the odd gunshots at the weekend have wiped them out or scared them off. Squirrels do not hibernate. These are all grey squirrels: no reds have been seen in the townland for decades.

And the badger controversy goes on in Britain, though we haven't heard so much here recently. A writer in the English bi-monthly The Countryman, under the heading Country Diary, tells us that in common with his neighbours he got a letter from the ministry to say that a scientific study to investigate the link between TB in cattle and badgers had been given the go-ahead by the Government. "It now intends to put the policy on a scientific footing, which has not happened in the past." There will be 30 recommended areas, each of about 100 square kms. In some no badgers will be culled, in others all will be killed, sorry culled. And the writer adds that the pre-election document of the Labour Party, signed by Mr Blair, stated that no badgers would be killed. (So many claims and counter-claims.)

The writer in The Countryman, Humphrey Phelps, has it thus: "The only direct evidence for transmission was obtained in the 1970s when healthy calves were housed experimentally with infected badgers, which strikes me as rather a put-up job." He adds: "It seems a case of "We've tried slaughtering badgers to stop TB; it wasn't a success, so we'll do it again." Are we still not clear which infects the other first? Y