My First Scottish Badgers Conference!

Early last month was the Scottish Badgers Annual Conference and AGM, an event which I have, unfortunately, missed for the past 3 years. This year however, I was adamant I would be attending and had the day penned-in months in advance.

With the conference being held in Perth, it required me to get the 8am train – slightly arduous after a few cocktails the night before but I found myself a nice table seat and a strong coffee. Looking around the carriage I noticed, sat across from me, a man with two large walking poles reading a book on photography by one Laurie Campbell. Knowing Laurie was speaking at the conference today I rightfully assumed that I had found another badger enthusiast. Chatting to the man, a walking-pole maker no less, I found he was from just outside of Ayr and his journey had started at 6am, making me feel a bit guilty for being so sleepy. Seeing as this was my first SB conference, it was cool to know that people were travelling from all over for it (later I found out that some had even come from south of the border – heck).

The conference was held in the Perth Museum and Gallery which houses a small lecture theatre. We arrived and picked up our name badges before a bit of classic pre-conference mingling. The room, with 125 seats, could not have been far from full – not a bad turn out! After looking at the raffle prizes on offer I lamented only bringing a single pound coin (spoiler, I didn’t win anything).

Before officially kicking off, Colin Smyth, MSP for South Scotland, stood and gave us a few words about his commitment to help Badgers. Colin is the badger’s ‘Species Champion’ for the Scottish Government and raises a lot of Scottish Badger’s concerns in parliament. This concept of a ‘Species Champion’ is something I find really interesting and I think I will make it the focus of a future article so watch this space.

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MSP Colin Smyth at the Conference. Photo Credit: Bill Winter

Following this we were welcomed by SB chairman, Eddie Palmer, who was very positive about SB’s past year and the particular success of the Badgers in the Landscape project. Common for many small NGO’s at the minute, Eddie also addressed concerns of our economic and funding prospects once we leave the EU. While doubtless a worry, as a small group there is plenty hope that we will be versatile enough to survive and with continued generous donations, such as one recently from Marguerite Pender, we can continue to soldier on. Eddie also reminded us all of the rather fabulous segment on BBC’s Landward recently, starring our very own Elaine Rainey – well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet.

Speaking of Elaine, she followed Eddie in giving us a detailed summation of the progress of ‘Badgers in the Landscape’ projects. This scheme has been used to see how much an areas volunteer numbers and public awareness (of badgers) can increase if there is regular and concentrated effort on surveying and outreach there. Assisted by people such as Melanie Craig at the South Lanarkshire Council and SWT partners at the Falls of Clyde reserve it has been a resounding success, with Falls of Clyde now home to the National Badger Hub! With over 3,000 hours of volunteering, 200 people trained and 55 sessions in primary schools, the numbers speak for themselves – south Lanarkshire has picked up on badger fever. Gavin, one of our fab volunteers, has recently made a video about ‘Badgers in the Landscape’ (rogue cameo from myself in there) – you can find it here on our youtube channel, which you should also give a follow.

Emily Platt, the charity’s Operations Coordinator, was up next with a report on the past year. This being a self-titled ‘buzz-kill lecture’, Emily had the sad job of informing us of the crime and road traffic accident stats. From the 70 reported incidences so far this year, 8 were deemed an offence by the police and 1 has gone on to the procurator fiscal – not a very high uptake rate unfortunately. Sett interference accounted for 54% of the crime reported this year, mostly through setts being dug. One of the key issues identified is a general low awareness of badgers and badger issues. Badger culling programs in England may be giving some members of the public the idea that the persecution of badgers is permissible or that they are no longer a protected species. This leads to a low level of reporting. Furthermore, there is a lack of knowledge within the police, many of them not knowing the laws relating to badgers or being able to recognise signs of sett tampering. This leads to further lack of investigation and a severe lack of prosecutor uptake. Sigh. On a more hopeful note, nationwide sett records have increased with a further 458 so far in 2018, putting the total for Scotland up to 9,329.

Following this we had the main feature; world-class photographer Laurie Campbell on his life with badgers, a notoriously difficult creature to snap. He discussed the evolution of photography in his lifetime and the lengths he has gone to to get photos of this elusive creature. At one stage he even, over many weeks, habituated a family of badgers to himself and let them get close enough to get some fantastic photos. Over his 45 years of photographing badgers, his efforts really have paid off. Have a google.

Next up; the AGM itself. Nothing ground-breaking for you here; the board of trustees rolled over and the new volunteer roles were mentioned, including my own – how exciting.

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A wonderfully varied collection of (mostly) animal related treats. Photo credit: Bill Winter

The most important part of the day was then upon us: Lunch. Soup, sandwiches and some other lovely veggie bites. Oh and this traybake that was lush, kind of like a tiffin?

Post-lunch we had a choice; Camera trap guidance or a report on licencing changes from Ben Ross, representing the SNH. I went for the licence one as I’m pretty familiar with ye olde camera traps. Not going to lie, the topic was a bit over my head and used some terms and licence names that I imagine the ecological surveyors in the room would be more familiar with. However, I still found it very informative and interesting, as did other people I spoke to afterwards and there followed a very length Q&A session.

Ending the day we had a very lovely talk from Polly Pullar, a renowned journalist who has spent her career writing mostly about our environment and the animals within. Her personal anecdotes and stories were both humorous and heart-warming with calls that “we must listen” and that we must increase our teaching of farmers and other members of the public, increasing the awareness and love for our badgers. All in all, a very good way to end the day,

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The marvellous Polly Pullar. Photo credit: Bill Winter 

And that was it. The day was over and I was pretty pooped from all the talks and introductions but very happy that I had been able to attend – what a lovely badger-centric day and I look forward to next year and I encourage anyone with an interest in our dear Meles to attend as well.

 

I will leave you with a wee quote from Polly

– “without nature, we are nothing”.

Richard

 

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