Badgers. They were here when our ancestors lived in caves. Long before farming began. Before cattle and certainly millennia before guns were invented.
Down in the south west of England something terrible has been happening for the last seven years. Secretly funded by the government, a team of marksmen have been scouring the countryside of Gloucestershire and Somerset to seek out badgers and kill them. Many of those badgers will have been easy to find because badger dynasties often occupy the same setts for centuries.
As recently as last September, the "cull" was extended to several other counties including Cheshire, Devon, Cornwall, Staffordshire, Dorset, Herefordshire and Wiltshire. And what's the reason for this killing spree? It's because some landowners say that the badgers infect cattle with TB. This might have happened from time to time but most experts agree that culling badgers is not the solution. A programme of inoculation would be the best way forward. Besides, the badgers were here first. Shouldn't that give them some protection?
If the news is to be believed, it seems that the government have now finally accepted that culling is not the solution. We are told that the shooting campaign has been brought to an end. We do not know how many badgers were shot in the last seven years - nor how many of them died in terror and long drawn out pain. We do not know how much the marksmen were paid and we do not know how often they used dogs to track down the badgers.
The whole programme was built on questionable premises. But more than that, to me it speaks of monstrous cruelty and noxious disrespect for the country's wildlife. Badgers are beautiful creatures that we should be cherishing - not murdering in the dead of night at the say-so of a handful of ill-informed farmers and mindless politicians.
Last Sunday night I was walking home from "The Greystones" public house at around eleven thirty. There was little traffic about and the night was still. As I turned from Greystones Drive on to Dobbin Hill I saw something scurrying down the pavement towards me, under the streetlights, passing parked cars. And as this creature came closer, I realised it was not a dog or a cat, it was a badger!
He or she was furtively sniffing the ground, motoring along on stubby little legs. Where he/she was heading I have no idea. As the badger continued moving in my direction I stayed stock still. He/she passed by within three feet of me. My heart skipped a beat. And when about twelve feet past the brock stopped in its tracks, turned to look in my direction and whispered, "Please write a blogpost about badgers my friend" before continuing that particular nocturnal journey. A magical encounter.