Michael Clark, giving the 2017 Gerald Salisbury Memorial Lecture, provided a fascinating overview of his commitment – spread across half a century – to badger conservation and preserving traditional varieties of apple.
Speaking to around 80 members of the HNHS and Welwyn Natural History Society on 22 November, he looked back to a time when badgers lacked legal protection and the authorities showed little interest in preventing illegal trapping and gassing.
While earning his living as an artist and illustrator, he became the county recorder for mammals, amphibians and reptiles in 1970. He also became warden of the Tewin Orchard nature reserve, living with his wife in the adjacent cottage.
In addition to protecting the orchard from threats such as ring-barking by rabbits, he set about replacing trees that were dying with local apple varieties. These included the reintroduction to Hertfordshire of the Hitchin Pippin, an apple that was feared to have died out until a BBC broadcast led to a single, living tree being located in Kent.
Michael's work converting a stable in the orchard into a hide for viewing badgers has made Tewin Orchard nationally famous, as emphasised by a recent visit from BBC TV's Countryfile programme. A revised edition of his popular and authoritative guides to badgers was published recently *. So it was no surprise that he used part of his lecture to explain his passionate view that badgers have been unfairly scapegoated in continuing controversy over the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.
Insisting that Bovine TB is "a cattle disease, not a badger disease" he insisted that badger culls were unnecessary and often inhumane. He argued that both cattle and badgers should be vaccinated against the disease. He also expressed hope that a new and improved test for cattle with TB would successfully trace 'sleeper' cows carrying the disease in herds who do not react to the existing test.
On a less serious note, Michael also recalled being asked to advise Ashridge Golf Club on ways to prevent turf on their course from being shredded. He discovered that the answer lay in removing Cranefly larvae just below the grass that are a favoured badger food source.
* Badgers by Michael Clark (New Edition May 2017) is published as part of the British Natural History Collection by Whittet Books