Today is National Badger Day and so I thought I would share my paintings and my passion for these gentle creatures in the hope that I can convince people that they really are worth protecting.
Although badgers are not endangered - like most of the species I've am raising awareness for through my campaign #artsavingnature - they have been persecuted for centuries. In 2011, I found myself helping to convict some badger baiters after stumbling across them attacking badgers with dogs. To read more on that story click here.
Badgers are really such lovable creatures. I've been captivated by them since the day when, as a youngster and at just 14 years old, I stumbled, quite literally, into a sett. A storm was blowing my scent away and since badgers have such poor eyesight they didn’t notice me as I stood among them watching the cubs tumble about my boots. It was quite magical to see the way in which they interacted. The experience had me hooked and all these years later, I’m still watching them. There is always something to learn about their complex social structure and nocturnal wanderings.
But getting close to badgers has never been easy. They are naturally very wary of humans – rightly so since they have been persecuted for centuries. Perhaps if more people got to watch them in the wild there would be more of a general incentive to protect them. But badgers have a particularly keen sense of smell and if they get the slightest whiff of human scent they remain underground.
Over the years I’ve perched in some very uncomfortable, and usually unreliable, places to try to watch them. But six years ago I built a deluxe hide five metres up a tree overlooking a sett. I have watched the clan at this sett every night since and I've painted quite a few of their portraits. In time the badgers have become so accustomed to me that I can walk amongst them. They are curious about what I am up to - on one occasion Humbug, my favourite, decided she wanted to see if she approved of the pictures I had taken!
Below is the portrait I painted of her when she was just a year old.
The clan always appear at dusk or just before and as night falls they gain confidence. They emerge like clockwork each evening and always disappear off in the same direction. Over the years I have got to know each member of the clan well and have watched as cubs grow. This painting is of Tufty, one of my favourites.
Although badgers are largely nocturnal, in the spring and summer the nights are too short to forage and they often venture out at sunset.They usually spend some time at the sett playing and grooming before heading off. This time is important for them socially as it helps them to cement their bonds. It also makes great badger watching, especially if there are playful cubs around.
When I sit down to paint their portraits I always feel that I have to make sure I get their characters right to do them justice. In November I am staging a major new exhibition featuring paintings of species around the world that need protecting. The exhibition opens here in my gallery in Thixendale, North Yorkshire between November 7-29th and will focus on a number of UK species that are in trouble and offer you advice on what you can do to help.