But the all-time record holder in this respect is the badger, or actually the Eurasian badger. Barring a disaster, badgers will never abandon their setts. Many badger setts are thousands of years old. Badger remains discovered in a cave system near Cheddar were found to date from up to 60,000 years ago. In this case it could be argued that the caves afforded natural shelter to which the badgers could easily gain access by digging through the collapsed entrance. But excavations of an even older sett in the Czech Republic have shown that badgers may have lived there for 100,000 years, excluding ice ages.
This will not surprise anyone who is familiar with badger setts and has studied badgers’ customs. Badgers were already around when you were born and will still be around by the time you die. In spite of intensive, horrific persecution, they always return to their ruined setts to reclaim their old occupation sites with fresh vigour.
This exceptional loyalty to their habitat and their remarkably strong social family ties make badgers both successful and extremely vulnerable. When they are not out foraging or defending their family territory they are to be found at home in their setts. In the event of danger, they rely on their black and white mask and their ability to inflate their skin to make them appear twice as large and more threatening. But although they can always seek refuge in the tunnels of their setts, they are no match for humans, packs of dogs or poisonous chemicals.
All this makes it extra bizarre that the British government is constantly engaged in developing new extermination campaigns that may kill even the carefully relocated badgers that have learnt to feel safe in their new abodes. The new tunnels and setts created at such great cost then remain unused because the badgers for which they were intended have been killed by government order.
In Great Britain no animal has been as closely studied and scientifically analysed as the badger. And evidently with only one real purpose: to find out how to kill it as effectively as possible. But in the end badgers will survive; from time immemorial they are accustomed to dying thousands of deaths.
Long after we have outlived our human sett on earth, badgers will return to their setts, loyal and undaunted.
Chairman, Vereniging Nederlands Cultuurlandschap