The spoil heaps outside the old foxes earth have grown in size over recent weeks, a sure sign that new tenants are in place. The loose sandy-coloured soil spills from these heaps down the steep leaf-strewn slope and into the dark waters that sit silently below. It is an odd location, positioned as it is at the top of a crumbling slope that eats its way into a small block of woodland. Well-worn paths lead away from the five different entrances, along the very top of the slope and into the wood itself. Not wanting to approach too closely, I can only scan the compacted soil of the entrances with my binoculars, but this fails to reveal a clear footprint that would identify what creature has taken ownership.
The entrances themselves have been enlarged quite considerably and the weak winter sunlight shining directly into one of these is sufficiently strong to reveal that the tunnel remains wide even as it disappears underground. Could it be that badgers have taken ownership? There have been occasional sightings from nearby over recent years, so perhaps this is a sign of a resurgent badger population, expanding into new areas. Norfolk does not hold the number of badgers seen in more southerly or westerly counties. In fact, there are relatively few active setts, though this is changing slowly for the better. Badgers prefer loose, free-draining soils for their setts and need to be near arable land or grassland where they can forage for food. Many areas within the county are too low-lying but some parts are both suitable and well-used. This particular spot is relatively free from disturbance so may have proved attractive to the badgers. Our understanding of Norfolk’s badgers is improving, mainly due to the efforts of Tony Vine and John Crouch who have championed these wonderful animals, spending many hours searching for and documenting active setts. Other records are sent to me, as county mammal recorder, and relate to badgers involved in collisions with traffic on our increasingly busy roads.
A quick search through the wood, following the obvious paths that radiate out from the potential sett, reveals evidence that bedding has been dragged towards the entrances but there is no sign of the shallow pits containing badger faeces, known as badger latrines, that I would expect to see. Since these have a social and territorial function it may be the wrong time of year to come across them. Although badgers do not undertake a true hibernation, they do reduce the levels of activity during the winter months. This suggests that I will need to return in spring in order to find out if it really is badgers who have taken up residence.