The Badger and the Strays

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Above is one of my most popular images, named Ready, Sett, Go!!! (I actually stole that name from a fantastic artist who drew an amazing picture of him). It’s an unusual shot; a badger in full sprint in full daylight tends to raise a few questions. Well actually, there’s a story behind the image which I’ve recently been reminded of.

One morning, late July, back in 2017, I’d wandered over to a particular favourite spot of mine in Epping Forest before sun rise for some photography. I then settled down in a small clearing laying prone awaiting whatever came along as the day began.

For whatever reason, on this particular day I’d been gifted the skills of a ninja wildlife photographer and before too long I was surrounded by deer, rabbits, squirrels and flocks of birds in full song. It was a sublime experience on a particularly beautiful day – Disneyesque almost.

Out of nowhere the peacefulness was broken for every animal there as they become fully alert practically as one. Lifting their heads high and listening astutely before darting off in alarm.

Frustratingly, I looked around wanting to give a rather unjustified angry eyeball to an expected rambler for ruining the situation. Instead I was presented with two, slightly gormless looking, dogs who came bounding onto the scene and stopping where the deer had just stood.

Hunters these dogs certainly were not and with no owners in sight I recognised these two straight away. These were the mysterious and seldom seen stray dogs of Epping Forest known to have been running free for several years – I’d only seen them only once previously in a fleeting glance myself. Scared of people, they quickly turn away to keep themselves to themselves. On this day though, ninja day, they were completely unaware of my existence allowing me to get a few shots before they soon gave up and moved on.

I waited till they’d left the scene and as they’d scared away everything in the vicinity I gave up with this spot and moved a little way to the edge of a field. I sat, waiting for hares to build up confidence to come back out once again, which after a while they began to do.

Then it happened…

In a slow-mo situation, that I can only liken to that of Yasmin Bleeth at the beginning of Baywatch, from out of a hedgerow bounded this young badger. I’d photographed this fellow before. This time, he was running from distance in an arc right towards me in perfect daylight and the best bit was that he actually appeared to be smiling!

He was happy the dogs had moved on – he’d been scared away with everything else but now he was taking the chance to run full pelt back home. His bed was calling! Only coming to a stop when he picked up my scent within arms reach next to him, he then pressed on slowly and cautiously into the forest behind me.

And that was that. Well almost.

Having seen these dogs running free, I followed their story whenever they popped up on local social media defending their right to roam free whenever possible, until finally – two and a half years later, I was saddened to receive a message that the pair had finally been picked up. They'd lived the life most dogs dream of but the time had come for these guys: injured, hungry and much thinner than when I last saw them - we believed that whoever we suspected of feeding them had stopped and they’d practically handed themselves in.

Many of us were fearful for the fate of these dogs when they were caught. However, they surprised us all by soon transforming themselves into the people friendly, happy dogs which we never imagined they could ever be.

After a big push on social media, they were picked up the weekend of me writing this by some lovely new owners who are giving them a new home.

I really hope everything works out for all – and I’ll always be grateful to Forest & Fern for their part in one of my favourite photographs.

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