Urban badgers flourishing in Bedminster
DAVID CLENSY meets the Bristol wildlife photographer who has been discovering the secret world of Bedminster's badgers.
YOU imagine them to be living in the countryside – deep in the woods, just like in Wind In The Willows. But to find badgers flourishing in an urban landscape like Bedminster surprised even wildlife photographer Ian Wade.
The 36-year-old, from Cotham, has spent much of the last decade stalking out wildlife in muddy ditches across the city – from a lengthy project studying the daily lives of the city's foxes, through to the less cunning, but no less beautiful, urban bluebells.
If anyone understands the wealth of wildlife living in our urban environment it's Ian – he literally wrote the book on the city's wildlife (Bristol Safari, 2011).
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"I was driving through Bedminster, along the busy A38," says Ian, from Cotham. "And there at the side of the road I spotted a badger, he was happily sitting on the grass verge scratching his belly in broad daylight.
"The next day I went back and parked up, got myself down a little embankment, and there, just a few yards away from the road, I discovered an enormous badger sett – it was clearly well-established; some of these setts can be anything up to 200 years old."
It became clear what Ian's next photographic project would be.
"They are tricky creatures to photograph, partly because they are very wary of humans – if they smell you, they'll disappear straight back into the set. Also they're nocturnal. To get a decent daytime picture, you have a very short window of opportunity in the early evening."
Ian spent 10 evenings earlier this year, huddled in the undergrowth waiting for the badgers to come out. On four of the evenings they did appear – and the results are spectacular.
Ian's candid pictures reveal the playful creatures enjoying an idyllic woodland existence just yards from the busy main road.
"The real trick is to make sure you have placed yourself near the exit that the badgers are using," Ian explains.
"These badger setts often have multiple exits. But you can look for telltale signs – such as spoil heaps, piles of earth that have been recently excavated by the badgers, and also look for flies hovering around the hole – the flies can smell the badger better than we can.
"I was lucky because there were a number of young badger cubs in the group, so that encouraged them to leave the sett earlier in the day than perhaps they normally would – just so the cubs could enjoy some time playing in the daylight.
"With this kind of project you can wait for hours, days even, before you catch a glimpse of the animals, and then they come out and you just have to take as many pictures as you can in the time you're given.
"That's when you get the real adrenalin rush, and then you have the reward of getting home and looking through the 50 or 60 new pictures of badgers you have on your camera."
Not all subjects are so elusive. Ian has recently been shortlisted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, for a series of compositions of bluebells.
"When you're working with plants, you have to set it up as if you're composing a painting – you can't just do what everyone else does, a carpet of bluebells for example.
"So I spent a long time framing my bluebell pictures with all kinds of strange objects, and making sure that the background was just as interesting as the foreground. You have to go that extra mile."
Ian funds his passion for wildlife photography by photographing weddings each weekend.
"I enjoy wedding photography too, but it's infinitely more difficult than wildlife photography. There's a fine line to tread as a wedding photographer between setting up good pictures and being bossy with people – as Saturday afternoon slips into Saturday evening, and guests start to have one or two drinks, it gets ever more challenging. But that's just part of the job.
"It can make laying in the mud waiting for badgers to come out of their set, really quite straightforward."
For more information about Ian's work, visit his website at www.ian wadephotography.co.uk