By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

THESE are strange times for any wildlife enthusiast. Shortly before the current lockdown came into effect I spent an evening along the River Washburn overlooking a badger sett in a field to which I had been given directions.

It had seven entrance holes, three of which had what looked like freshly excavated earth outside. As I had made my way to the site I had found a couple of badger paw prints in the dried mud, rather like those of a small bear.

I settled down to wait 100 yards from the sett, behind a tree at the top of the river bank and waited until it was too dark to make out the entrances any longer. A typical badger non-encounter! It was a dark night so I planned to return on a clear night with a full moon, plans now put on hold for a while.

I am told that this sett has been there for some years and that it had been ploughed over until North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Unit took a hand. Badgers are protected animals, making the fact that 35,000 of them were culled in other areas of the country last year all the more incredible.

My wildlife enthusiasms have been redirected closer to home with the creatures around the garden coming under closer scrutiny. One of the highlights of spring is always the arrival in our ponds of the frogs. They left it late this year, only arriving in numbers on 19th March and peaking with two dozen in a frenzy of mating activity on 24th (pictured). Three days later they had all gone and from now on we will see just an occasional individual in the ponds or in the longer grass.

Numbers in our ponds have never recovered from the very cold spring of 2013, the coldest since 1947, which went on a long time with the ponds frozen until well into March with many frogs, hidden in the mud of pond bottoms or under rocks and logs presumably not having the fat reserves to see them through hibernation.

Before that we had got used to seeing over 100 each spring with many of the tadpoles surviving to become froglets able to leave the ponds and survive on land. Given that the ponds now have a thriving population of palmate newts, which eat frogspawn and tadpoles, I hope just a few of the frogs will survive.