Days Out: Devon badger watch
Sunday 09 July 2006
In a quiet and secluded corner of North Devon lies Devon Badger Watch, one of the UK's best venues for watching badgers. It's a scenic setting of coppices, rolling hills and graceful valleys, rather like The Wind in the Willows. And as the badger clan sprawls across more than 60 acres, you are pretty certain to see Badger and his many friends. Viewing takes place from a hide (one badger was sitting outside the hide's door when we arrived); and sometimes the animals pop up in front of the window rather like glove puppets. They will bounce about in the woods in front of you for an hour or so, ferreting for food and munching the peanuts laid out for them before dropping down the hill to the stream for a drink. You may also see buzzards, sparrow hawks and kestrels, along with bullfinches, swallows, deer, fox and hares.
Badger-watching is an excellent way to introduce children to the natural world. The hide overlooks a slope and a badger preening itself will often overbalance and tumble downhill. Badgers also have a diet high in the kind of slimy creatures that appeal to children, such as snails and earthworms. Spotter sheets are available to let kids try to match up the footprints of animals they come across in the woods. And they may badger you (ahem) to adopt a badger. You can do this at the visitor centre.
There's something about these animals that is truly mesmerising. Few will be unmoved when a badger pauses, with a paw half cocked, and raises its snout in the air. But these are wild creatures, and their claws and teeth are sharp. Surprisingly little is known about them, but you can learn more at the watch's excellent visitor centre. The owners, Kevin and Anne, also provide a detailed insight into the badger's life, and into the relationship between Britain's wildlife, the countryside and farming.
Food is available at the Exeter Inn three miles away on the Tiverton Road. Don't overdo the garlic bread - apparently the badgers don't like it.
Because of the need to sit still and quiet at the hide, children under seven are usually not admitted. The path to the sett passes through a coppice that is unsuitable for wheelchairs. That said, the owners suggest you call them to discuss your needs as they may still be able to help.
Open Monday to Saturday, April to October. Times varybut badgers usually appear around 7.30pm. Adults £10, children £6. Advance booking is necessary.
How to get there
Devon Badger Watch is only accessible by car: north of Tiverton, off junction 27 of the M5. For security, visitors will be given the exact location when booking(01398 351506; devonbadgerwatch.co.uk).
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