TB or not TB? That is the question.

5 May

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Badgerlands author Patrick Barkham and some heavy Brock at Lower Shaw Farm

TuBerculosis or The Badger? Is the same question put another way and it’s this  dilemma that Patrick Barkham admits he makes no attempt to resolve in Badgerlands, an immersive tunnel into the strange set of people and places that surround this elusive and controversial mammal.

A packed former calf shed at Lower Shaw Farm listened as Barkham explained that he had wanted to create a balanced view of where the badger sits in the current landscape, and found that Meles Meles is just as likely to be on a suburban pensioner’s patio eating hand fed peanuts as in the cross-hairs of a DEFRA contracted sniper.

His book is as much about people as badgers with badger baiters, farmers and a roadkill chef all turning up along the entertaining way. Supported by visuals of the British badger in historical context, a comprehensive picture developed.

Poet John Clare’s graphic portrayal of a town centre baiting reminded the audience that in the 19th century dogs killing ferocious mammals was considered entertainment, entertainment that now ends up in court rooms where present day perpetrators attempt to explain why they have been caught red-handed with shovels and dogs at a badger sett.

This is where Barkham’s skill at providing balance was its most potent as he flipped from a slide of a cute baby badger being bottle fed to an adult being dragged by man and dog from its labyrinthine home.

This shift in mood enabled the topic to change to the controversy over the failed but continuing badger cull. With the government’s own figures showing that policing costs alone for the project cost in excess of £1000 per badger killed, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s mis-spoken ‘We have to bear down on wildlife’ makes it appear that there are other political forces at work .

But this is where Badgerlands is at its best, there is no polemic and little opinion (stir-fried badger tastes vile being about the strongest), it is left for us, the readers to debate the facts of a complicated argument.

Like the puzzled animals in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows we need a sensible, respected sage to call upon to save us from the excesses of Toad or the innocence of Mole.

Someone who can see both sides of the story and provide us with wisdom like The Wild Wood is pretty well populated by now; with all the usual lot, good, bad, and indifferent – I name no names. It takes all sorts to make a world’. Badger – Wind in the Willows – Grahame K., 1908.

Words by Michael Scott. First two photos by Calyx Pictures.

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