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Sustainable Shakespeare - Following the Tracks to a Shakespearian Sett

Andrew Anderson

Shakespeare’s plays are packed with references to the flora and fauna of Warwickshire, and yet there is only a single reference to badgers in the complete works. Shakespeare uses a range of imagery connected to hunting and prey in Act 2 Scene 5 of Twelfth Night, to echo the entrapment of the steward Malvolio by Sir Toby Belch and his companions. As Malvolio begins to fall for the trick, Sir Toby exclaims “Marry, hang thee, brock!*” While this could be a reference to the steward’s dark and sombre clothing, it doesn’t seem like badgers were the Bard’s favourite beast.

Badger footprints in snow. There is a large paw print at the bottom of the frame with smaller footprints in the distance.

One cold and frosty morning in January 2022, a member of Shakespeare Birthplace Trust staff found a trail of badger prints across one of our sites. This wasn’t entirely surprising as all of our sites attract lots of wildlife, particularly when they are quiet over the winter. However, we had never seen any evidence of badgers on this particular site before. A short while later, when the weather got a bit warmer, we found another, large badger footprint in some muddy ground. We decided to investigate further and found what we thought could be a possible entrance to a sett. We put a camera on a tree facing the hole and waited.

For a couple of days nothing happened. There was no sign of anything, badger or otherwise, coming out of the hole until, very early one morning, a badger wandered into shot, marked the ground and walked away. It was clear that the badger didn’t live in the hole but did live nearby and used the space to forage. We decided to put a few more cameras around the space to see if we could find out where the badger was coming from and where it was going.

After a few days of checking the footage and moving the cameras, we found what we believed was the entrance to a badger sett and contacted the Warwickshire Badger Group to get some help. One very rainy evening, we took a representative from WBG to our site and pointed to where we thought the badger lived. However, it turned out that what we had found was a preliminary excavation by the badger, who clearly wasn’t living there. We spent a long time walking around in the rain, trying to work out where the badger had set up home! We checked in hedgerows, under trees and bushes until we finally found what we were looking for.

It turned out that, totally on the opposite side of the site from where we began looking, was a very big badger sett, hidden away with lots of entrances and a number of badgers in residence. Warwickshire Badger Group came back a week or so later and we were able to find a lot more evidence of badger activity across the site including badger paths, latrines and hair caught on fences. The location has now been recorded as an active badger sett and we look forward to finding out what our new residents get up to over the coming months.

*Old English for 'badger'

To find out more about how the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is becoming more sustainable and encouraging biodiversity at Shakespeare's Family Homes visit our Sustainable Shakespeare page.