Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Podcast Episode 4 Out Now!

The latest episode of my podcast – Badger Setts – has been released on all the usual platforms:

You can get a taste of the content below, but bear in mind this is an automated transcription, so there are typos:

“Hello, my name is Tristan Gooley and welcome to the pursuit of outdoor clues the podcast that invites you to join me in my pursuit of outdoor clues. In each episode, I venture outdoors in search of a new clue and along the way we get to know some of my favourites better too.

For this episode, I’m walking into my local woods again, which I’m happy to do at any time of day or year, but the day does feel a bit different. It’s a beautiful day, barely a cloud in the sky has always one or two, but it feels different not not because of the environment.

Not because of my surroundings but because. We are in lockdown. Is marched the 24th and last night Boris Johnson addressed the nation. We’re allowed one daily excursion for exercise. So I’m not breaking the law here. But that’s enough about that. There’s a bumble bee working its way between the dry beach leaves.

I’ll just see if I can get close enough for you to listen.

Don’t think I want to get a lot closer than that.

Yes. Sometimes I’m going to be heading out looking for. A wonderful example of a particular outdoor clue. And sometimes. I’m going to be looking for the first ever example of a new clue. And sometimes like today. I’m just going to be on the lookout. I’m going to just keep going until I hopefully find.

Something exciting. Something different.

It’s the middle of the afternoon. I can. Of the sun on the back of my neck and I’m walking towards my shadow. So I must be walking northeast.

I can hear a. Light sprinkling of bird song in the woods around me.

It’s quite subdued birdsong even in spring in the middle of the day. We get peaks and either end of the day. The dawn chorus being the most famous. In the middle of the day things do. To quiet down a little bit it’s going to pause. Gray squirrel that saw me first and there’s darted.

To a tree. That I wouldn’t have expected to go for actually. Maybe I did surprise it a little bit because it’s unusual for squirrels to go for isolated trees. And there’s a tree here, which is so covered in thick. Ivy. And I can’t. Smee anyway work out what it is.

I think it’s a goat will I I’m. Third yes the squirrels up there somewhere. Mess which is often the case. They have a sneaky. Branch. They used to find another tree but. The broader the broader thing is the squirrels will tend to flee towards a network of trees, they don’t like isolation one, so if you approach one.

And you’ve got a choice of a few trees. And a there’s a group of them that are connected and then one on its own it becomes quite easy to guess which way the squirrels go.

I can see a. Favorite you tree of mine and. One of the forestry team has done a little bit of. Work soaring some branches off and. It reminds me of a. Couple of you trees that were felled on top of a a hill a few miles from here. And the reason the trees were taken down was they were changing the use of the land it was going to be used for for pasture and grazing and the new trees were.

Were taken away because they’d be considered a threat to the animals. I think. But it made me very sad because they took one tree that I’ve been using. As part of a course. For many years, it was an exemplar it was a wonderful demonstration of many of the wins effect.

It was like a sculpture to me. I did feel very sad when they took it away and that’s.

Upset one of the birds sounds like a. Great tip. I think let’s have a look.

Yes, it’s not happy with me being here at all.

For guys. Yes back to the the tree. That I was sad to lose. I think in outdoors there’s a. There’s a relationship many of us form with certain landmarks. And it’s very hard for anybody else to. Necessarily know that that relationship is there. A doubt there was anyone in the world other than those who’d come on a course who.

Knew what that that tree meant and possibly even even then. You know, we see seen monuments and buildings and places of historical or. Other cultural interests and they they get their blue plaques and they they’re protected. But there are so many places in the countryside. Have different sorts of meanings and different.

Form different bonds. And they’re never protected. Unless they’re one of those incredibly old trees.

Just having a look at. Some of the buds it’s that time of year. Where? The buds can stop to. Swell and burst. And expect the. The ash there aren’t quite as many as the there were even this time last year quite a few of them had been felled because of ash dieback but the ash or the oak had expect to see some buds swelling, maybe a over here, let’s have a look.

Now, this is quite a mighty oak, actually. But not many. Lower branches intact. I can’t get close to the buds themselves.

Something I’m looking for is at this time of year. A lot of people waiting for the big show the the grand opening when. The leaves burst out and the green canopy spreads out across the woodland, but before that happens, there’s something worth looking for which is. The trees long before the green of the leaves is visible.

The trees change in appearance because each bud swells just before it bursts. And because there are thousands of these buds all over the canopy, it actually changes the appearance of the tree at this time of year. It gives it a slightly thicker. Perhaps we could say more opaque darker appearance.

I think I’m seeing a bit of that in that oak. It’s not dramatic. It’s one of those subtler signs.

Alright, let’s go up this hill here.

Ah. Yes, of course the hall phone is out. Hawthorn’s been out at least a couple of weeks and. The young leaves make a. I won’t say a wonderful snack. There are. No edible, that’s for sure.

And again, whenever I pause. Things just. Start to shine out as a. Very clear. Badger run through here. I might follow that.

Dip below this. No beach branch getting very close to the buds there now sign of. New life there.

Wow, this is a real batch of motorway this one.

Lots of bumblebees Cena 3 and last 5 minutes.

Here. Is a badger set but it’s an old. Disused one. Of the ways we can tell. Badger holes from the mother animals. Is that they.

Would a woodpecker.

And the badges. Do a handbrake turn they come out of the set out of their hole. They’re very rarely carry straight on. They like to take a shot turn and that’s nearly always visible. They pop out the hole and then take a left or right pretty much the right angle.

That’s what I’m seeing here.

Now maybe that’s a clue I could look for actually clearly and a lot of badger activity probably not a lot over the last few months, but over the years there has been a lot and the clue. I just had an idea to look for. Doesn’t need recent activity. Yeah bear with me.

I’m just gonna have a little little look around here.

Yes. I think this is this is gonna work this is a good area what I thought I might do. Is just spend a little while investigating the badger set. And. Just seeing if there’s any. Dependable clue in their alignment. Now my understanding and it’s fairly fairly recent. Is that badges like to.

Have their their openings their holes. On the side that the prevailing wind comes from from the southwest side. But I have noticed this in. The odd example here and there but I’ve never put the time aside to actually go have a look at quite a few. So. That’s what I’m gonna do now.

I’m gonna stop following. Every time I pick up a trail. However old it is. I’ll try and find the set and then we can see.

One of the challenges in searching for a. Badger set. In this. Woodland is that? There are a lot of root balls a lot of trees have been appended by the storms over the years and they leave this this mound and the earth which does look from a distance very like a set.

So it’s not actually very effective. To just scan the the ground looking for these bumps. All I have to do is actually try and pick up the the runs themselves, which isn’t too tricky to do, ah well. What have we here?

There’s a lot of leaf litter so where there’s bear mod, you can tell almost instantly if it’s there’s a deer. I mean, they do use each other’s. A fair amount but. One of the best quick ways of telling that it’s a badger not a a deer is wherever there’s any obstacle, so I follow this one for a few yards.

Then sure enough there is a very low full and branch and the the trail goes straight underneath it and the branch is only whether it’s about knee high not a lot more than a foot off the ground. And not many deer are going to go along that.

So I will just keep following it and keep lifting my eyes looking for.

Any twist or turns?

Something’s been busy here. Something’s been digging. Something reasonably big.

I can’t tell exactly what yeah. Something a bit of a scratch. Very possibly about you.

I’ve been following this trail for. Probably about 50 meters now and. Exploring off to the side of it as well as I tend to do. I’ve just come across a really lovely example. The the ground is a it’s quite a. It’s a into woven sort of. It’s always like a carpet of tree roots with a thin layer of moss over them.

Nothing in the way of bare soil, there’s lots of lots of needles only from the spruces around me. Quite a few spruce cones that have been nibbled down to the core but the thing I’ve spotted which is a bit more relevant for what I’m doing at the moment is that these roots that have mostly spruce roots that have this thin layer of moss on them and the moss is a fairly even carpet so.

Like I sort of series of very skinny green fingers that are interlocked but there’s a line running over the top of them of bare roots. And. It’s the sort of thing it’s very easy the item is but if you are if you are trying to follow the path of animals, then what they do is they pass over any obstacle even small low ones like these roots is they scuff the surface and of course, they don’t do a randomly they do it in a line, so what happens when you.

You kind of tune your your vision in as you start to notice that there’s a line of bare roots it starts with no sing one or two you just want to go oh why is that bear and then you you let your your focus or drift in and out and lower your head a little bit and then you suddenly just spot at the mops has been taken off in this case half a dozen of these roots.

In a near perfect straight line. And if I follow that.

I get all the way to. A birch branch where it looks like some something’s been nibbling the bark off the top. And that would be you know, a good first guess of what’s going on here, but actually I can see that it’s in line with all of the. The roots the bare roots where the animal in this case.

I’m certain a badger has taken that moss off and then just hopped over this birch branch as it lies there must have been there because possibly three years and I guess definitely. Rotting now and yeah, the the bark has been taken off entirely by. It’s one of those things so often in nature we find that.

It’s hard to credit that there would be an effect the idea of a badge are crawling over a log you think well probably not going to get much in the way of tracks or footprints. But are we is it going to leave any signs and and one badge you’re going over once is not going to have any great effect.

But. Several badges over. Months and possibly even years following the same. Course we are going to get. Like anything a very steady. Gradual buildup of effect and it can become quite dramatic in time.

You might have been able to hear the the sound. Underfoot changing quite dramatically there. I’ve just emerged from the spruces. Into beach woodland. And the thick dry carpet. I mean, it’s very noticeable we’ve had three days of sunshine, maybe now. Black. I want to see car remember the last time I heard this crisp dryness in the leaves under foot.

All the light levels have changed. And the other story has changed completely. Now the word lots of. Low plants under the conifers under the spruces. Because it is pretty dark there. But there was a very very different feel. There was a carpet a mosses and suddenly. You’ve got these this carpet of dry leaves, but.

What I’m finding here is. A nice. Patch of blue valves. Now the blue valves on out yet, we’ve got a few weeks ago. But they’re looking healthy and they’re looking ready to entertain us for one of the real highlights of this part of the world. The chalk downs this beachwood.

And something I wrote about in a my last book world signs and star parts. Is a little a little technique. I like to use which is pairing. It’s it’s related to all clues and signs but it’s it’s just when you know two things go together. You compare them and you just practice thinking of them as a pair and then every time you see one of them you think of the other and this is a very nice matching pair.

I wasn’t I wasn’t planning this it did just pop up but blue bells and badgers go together. Now with many outdoor clues what we find is there is a causal relationship. So, We find that we have lots of beach trees here. And that’s because they love the the dry.

Chalky soil that we’re on. There is a direct relationship between those two things. If we change the geology, if we took away the chalk and put clay here.

We we find the the trees would change as a result of that. So there’s a there’s a causal link between those two things. But pairing can be used when there is no cause or link. So if we take an old favorite like stinging nettles and dock leaves whenever a child is stung by stinging nettle.

As parents rush around looking for dock leaves. For years, I wasn’t sure whether the dog leaves were doing any good as a child. I wasn’t sure when my parents remember my mother rubbing them frantically on my stings without did any good. They do do some good. There are antihistamines in dock leaves, but I digress as I saw often do so back to the pairing we we saw confined dot leaves.

Whether it’s thing metals or roads just starting away over there and it’s turned side on. Which is what they do.

I’ve seen quite a few Rodeo over the last few days.

Now I thought that was another one.

Right back to the the doc leaves and the steam nettles so that the the dog leads and stainless are a good pair but there is no cause or relationship between them there is something that links them but they one doesn’t cause the other and again it’s the it’s the soil there in in the case of dock leaves and stinging nettles they both need nutrient rich soil, they both like there to be a lot of nitrates and phosphates in the soil, so for soil is right for stinging nettles, it’s right for dark leaves as well, so we tend to find them in the same place but one doesn’t cause the other.

And it’s a very similar thing with the blue bells and the badges. Badges hate waterlogged soil, there’s no used to them at all and the same is true of blue bells they like this well-drained dry chalky soil so we can just remember badges and blue bells blue bells and badgers and where we see a badger set we can be hopeful of finding some blue bells, especially at the right time of year and vice versa.

Now I’ve drifted I think out of badger territory here. So I’m gonna just head a little bit. Downhill back to this edge between the two. Woodland types. I think my. Chances of spotting a set will be a bit better down here.

So I’ll let you have a listen now. As we drift back down we’re still in the beach woodland. Still in the beach woodland. I’m not gonna tell you when we head back into the conifers, you’re gonna do that by listening.

I’m sure you pick that up we go from the the crunchiness of the beach leaves to a different sound it’s far from choir. I can walk quietly than this but it’s less fun for this for this little experiment we’re now in a a different sort of litter. Yeah, lots of Scott’s pine needles here and a lot more small broken branches which are giving it a the the needles have a softer sound to them, but the, The branches when they when they break under foot have a much more.

Crunchy sound and now onto a carpet of moss.

I’ve emerged from the conifers. Now passing through. A stand of a copest hazel.

Which is in itself a clue. When we get that. Sort of explosion of dozens of hazel branches out of the ground. Which is a clear sign of the the cops sink. Cops thing is the the habit of harvesting wood. I think in the case of hazel. I think the cycle is roughly 15 years.

And every 15 years the the tree can be cut down. For many different poles can be cut down very close to the ground and not only does it.

Sounded like an owl but early for that. I’ve been possible um, not only does it not do the tree anyhow it actually does it quite a lot of good to counterintuitive facts the we’re so used to an animal slash human way of of view of viewing these things that the idea that you you chop a tree down and actually does it a lot of good but you know, the the acid test of that is that coppice trees live a lot longer than the trees that aren’t copied.

Pretty much all deciduous trees can be copied or pollarded, which is when the aim is to stop grazing animals and deer in particularly. From attacking the new shoots, so if you if you chopper hazel or other tree down to the ground and the new shoots form and it makes a very tasty juicy meal for animals like deer but you can.

Swap the deer by only cutting the tree down as far as roughly sort of adult head height perhaps a little bit higher sometimes and you can spot this to remember that I’m looking at around here at the moment but you see them you see them a lot in them in old parks where they’re a deer at historically the the foresters would want to harvest.

The wood but they didn’t want to endanger the trees, so it’s be cut down to about six foot and wasn’t much the deer could do about that.

Come out onto a broad road and track. And. Some good animal signs here a horse is skidded to a halt but the mudders dried so that the lap sod has been frozen in time there.

And I’ll just having a look at this wild cherry tree here well cherries are quite easy to identify from there, they’re stripes is a simplistic way of putting it, but they’re actually. Where the bark is able to breathe but these horizontal lines that you you see on the the cherry and I use that as a way of remembering what the cherry signifies because wild cherries are.

Only found at the edges of woodlands, they’re quite often planted because they are beautiful particularly. A spring goes on but in in any established woodland if you come across. Wild cherries as I see a few here, they’re always at the age and the way I remember it is these these lines that you see I think of them like the sort of horizontal lines that make up the wire on fences, it sounds a bit.

A bit strange but that’s that just helps trigger that image in my mind it makes me think of a fence and then it reminds me that this tree is. Signifying the edge of woodland. And the same is true of birches, so it’s not a great surprise to see one of those here as well.

So silver birch here, although it’s. Not very silver because it’s got a generous coating of trendy polio. On the the north side.

Right this area here feels. Well worth. Returning to the badger investigation there are. We’re at the edge again other coniferous area. And a beach area.

A few mounds from the upturned trees. As you can hear I’m walking in the more open. Beach side of this divide.

Just keeping my eyes peeled and peering in to the edge. The signs of a badger run.

That looks promising what looks like another polished tree root a second a third. And then it becomes much less distinct but there’s a there’s a color change and lowering the eyes is such a. Key part of this and yes, there is a there is a line now. I think if I follow this.

I think we will find our bounty.

It will have the edge of a very old rotten tree stump.

That way. Let’s just do it down a little bit. I think I yes, here we go.


What’s this? Yeah.

And there is the set. Rather beautiful mossy cover. To the mound. And two. Very clear holes there and the handbrake turn in the earth just above has not been used. In recent months, but. Doesn’t look. Years old either. But encouraging thing is. The opening is on the southwest side.

There’s just just enough light coming in from the southwest and sky making its way between the trees there. Just throw a little sunlight. On the mouth of the the badger set. Now, I don’t think in this. Short. Investigation we’ve really wrap that one up but. I think it’s one of those ones that’s that’s gonna rumble on I don’t I think that case book.

May may have to stay open on a shelf for a for a few years. It’s the sort of the sort of clue where. Getting a very sort of general sense that it works. Is quite easy. But then they’ll always be subtleties intricacies.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is. Nature’s very inviting and and is happy for us to. To get to know it. On one level very very quickly. But the deeper we go the the deeper we try and form that relationship. The more we discover. That. There are these interconnections so.

Of course the badger doesn’t sit down and. Get out of compass but they are very very well tuned to the wind so there is a logical connection between prevailing wind from the southwest and keep getting a fast sense of what’s going on as soon as they’re. Nose is above ground.

But there will be other factors and I can’t claim at this moment to know what they are and. That’s when I think we’ll revisit. From time to time it’s sometimes interesting when there are examples that completely break the rule in inverse of commas the rule doesn’t exist it’s it’s a guiding principle and that’s what makes makes the clue but sometimes if we if we find an area perhaps and we we find there are.

Half a dozen sets and and the, Mouth is all pointing are all pointing in the the opposite direction to the one we expect something. Interest and quite often the new clue there as well. Just spotted unloaded. Larger than. Done used to from this area, but that’s quite a good seasonal sign that caption the sunlight and they’re hovering over something my my general view then is that.

Something has has triggered this burst of activity, it has to involve a little bit of warmth and a little bit of water. I wouldn’t expect to find any standing water here because we are over chalk. That might be something. Decaying with water in it or.

The tricky thing is that there. ‘s very easy to spot in this slices of sunlight cutting through the woods, but the second they move out of it. I lose them so. Hard. Pick up their comics and goings.

I’ve just spotted what looks like. Another. Badger highway heading off and I’m gonna follow that. I’m gonna continue the investigation as I say. I don’t think the book’s gonna shut. The lights so many of these clues it’s it’s a well just keep gathering the evidence. The picture. Comes into focus.

I hope you’ve enjoyed.

Investigation into the badges habits and the, Or two other clues, and I hope you can join me next time until then happy navigating.”

You might also enjoy:

How to Find Your Way Using Animals

Nature’s Altimeter