Following her work placement at at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve – organised as part of the MA Wild Writing – Kirsty Groves reflects on a memorable night in the badger hide. Photos © Tilly Renyard.
As Essex Wildlife Trust’s flagship site, Fingringhoe Wick has its own special kind of magic. Many of the visitors are regular, and they treat the site with the type of reverence and respect more commonly found in churches. The bird hides where they patiently sit for hours become a place of worship; hushed voices and intense concentration being the order of the day. This patience allows visitors to see things that others don’t notice, the slow pace unlocking a different world. As I learned to be patient myself, I have been rewarded by nature. Modern society causes us to rush through life, rarely having the opportunities to appreciate what exists around us. Spending time at Fingringhoe has made me slow down, and enjoy the (clichéd) little things. The stories I have from my time at the reserve are numerous, but I will share one of my favourites…
As the day faded into dusk, I returned for a late night visit to the site. Excited, but trying to keep our voices hushed, my colleague and I took the shortcut to the badger hide. This was not the first time we had tried to have an encounter with these nocturnal scavengers. Six unsuccessful visits had happened prior to this, but we had been unlucky with weather. Badgers are creatures of comfort, and will often choose to stay in their sett rather than brave the wind and rain. This time though, it was still warm from a sunny day, and my hopes were high. I settled into the hide with my thermos of coffee, and began the long wait.
As night draws in, the site becomes surprisingly loud. The lack of people allow the natural world to take over. It even smells different, muskier, earthier. This late in the season there were no nightingales singing, but many other birds filled the gaps. I have often heard two tawny owls calling to each other, an old married couple, one hooting at a low pitch, the other screeching a harsh response. Further away I could hear a muntjac, making its awful choking bark sound. Bats circled the clearing in front of the hide, darting in front of the large windows, suddenly invisible when they passed the trees.
I was beginning to get restless, silently complaining to myself that it was getting too dark to see. But then, emerging from the greyish-green of the bushes to my right, I spotted a white shape. A little face, snuffling close to the ground, trying to locate the peanuts we had scattered earlier. It is hard to put into words the sense of wonder and joy that I felt. I had only ever seen badgers as a flattened blur on the side of the road, and now here was one metres away from me. The badger is a curious creature, a combination of majesty and comedy. Although only one graced us with its presence this night, I know the badger to be part of a family group. The strong bond and connection between these creatures has been commented on by other badger-watchers, and, at the risk of anthropomorphising, nothing beats seeing a mother teaching her child how to be independent. I watched until I couldn’t see, as the badger trundled around the clearing in front of us, apparently oblivious to any human presence. The long waits had paid off. A real badger!
Some of the experiences that I have had at the Wick will stay with me for a lifetime. To watch the place develop throughout the spring and summer has been incredible. But equally important to the place is the people. The dedication of the staff and volunteers, and the deep love and respect for nature that everyone embodies as they go about their work is inspirational. The vital importance of both protecting the site for future generations, and passing on the knowledge that has been gained whilst doing this is, to me, core to the ethos of Essex Wildlife Trust. As I look back on my time spent at Fingringhoe I also look forward, excited to see the site in the autumn and winter months. Even on the darkest January day, I know there will be something to look at and something to learn.
Kirsty Groves is an MA Wild Writing student at the University of Essex. She has recently spent three months on work placement at Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, which has provided unlimited inspiration for her creative writing. She is now beginning a career with Essex Wildlife Trust, educating children about the natural world.