A big motivating factor for all of us who work at Sheffield Organic Growers is the preservation and hopefully restoration of our natural wildlife. Huw when setting up the site and converting it from a field to a fully operational rented vegetable and fruit growing business, not only dug a pond at the bottom to catch rain water coming of the field and stop contamination of the stream running through the valley, but also planted mixed species hedgrows to divide the four veg plots on the main field. These provide fruit such as hawthorn berries and elderberries for the surrounding bird populations, along with ideal nesting sites and insect pupae to feed on.
We quite happily tolerate the odd nibble here and there from passing hares, although rabbits can do alot more damage- so covering young crops with fleece or environmesh is usually called for, (Martin and I have taken the precaution of rabbit fencing our plots). However we have had a very serious issue with badgers this year. It began with me foolishly presuming that my rabbit fence might deter them from having ago at my broad bean patch, (Huw had warned me that they have aquired a taste for this crop and had had the whole lot nibbled, clawed and ruined overnight last time he attempted to grow them).
Above Badger damage on Broad Beans up close
Whilst the attack began slowly, and I did manage to harvest about half the crop before they ate them all, (they are particularly picky about eating under ripe small beans and wait untill they are nice and big and protien rich). Below are some more photos of the mess they make pulling down plants and clawing almost everyone of the smaller variety I grew.
The worst however was yet to come in August as both Matt and Huw had no fencing around their squash patches (both of considerable size and containing thousands of pounds worth of crop). The damage occured around mid to late August and we suspected this was because their usual food source worms were unavailble due to the ground being extremley dry and clawing into a squash and extracting the seeds (more protein), was their easiest way to eat.
Unfortunately, by the time Huw got round to electric fencing his plot and Matt was about to order some said fencing, most of the damage had been done and almost all their crop and about half of mine and Martins had been rendered unsaleble. You can see some of the less damaged squash below, the brown marks are where their claws have been.
We’re currently looking into funding for a semi-permenant electric fence to stop this happening again, as squash is a most valuable winter income crop for us all. These creatures are well known in the countryside as being extremley intelligent and persistant and whilst we know other farmers have worse problems with deer, or raccoons, or even elephants if you live in India, we feel we have to take measures to keep them out.
Having talked to Jon Rose the farmer down the road from us we know badgers have been a problem for him too, flattening areas of grain in his fields and pigeons coming in after them.
Perhaps, if we had an agricultural system that promoted an abundance of earthworms in fields, badgers would be less likely to go for squash and other cash crops too (the act of plowing and spraying chemicals on the land can decrease numbers of this number one food source for badgers). I am not entirely sure that would deter them though, once they know it tastes good it’s quite hard to change any wild animals feeding habits.
But til we as a culture start promoting the latest techniques in farming to promote species balance and diversity, ( such as no till grain growing – if it doesn’t include spraying more chemicals to keep the weeds down), the only practicle solution once they know whichever crop you grow is a food source, seems to be electric fencing, which Jon has had to do around his fields when it gets too bad.