The Reading Room

When Badgers Wake

Review of When Badgers Wake by Eileen A. Soper..

This is indeed a beautiful book. First published in 1955 by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd  the author, Eileen A. Soper recorded the life of one set of badgers over a four year period from 1951 to 1954. Given their nocturnal nature it is testament to Soper that she recorded more than a thousand hours of watching and studying the colony.

Eileen Soper (1905-1990) was an author and illustrator of wildlife and children’s books, producing etchings for Enid Blyton ‘s Famous Five series and Phil Drabbles’s 1979 book No Badgers in my Wood amongst others. Indeed the wonderful front cover and many illustrations throughout this book were drawn by her and make it such a charming reading experience. Other creatures feature too from a fox to door mice, nuthatches and chaffinches, helping to create a real sense of time and place around the badgers lives.

When Badgers Wake was the first of her wildlife books following on from three children’s books written between 1947 and 1949. It really does stand up as a great study of badgers and deserves wider recognition as a book on wildlife in general. Badgers are notoriously difficult to study and that Soper managed to produce so many intricate drawings of them at play even in the thick of winter when it was bitterly cold at night gives this book both charm and importance.

But this is more than a set of drawings, it is a diary of the passion to record an animal most of us know very little about which makes it such an important title in the wildlife library. She draws the reader into their habitat and reminds us of their fragility: ‘Perhaps the happiest part of any badger’s life is spent in the early hours of the day when the chance of contact with man is very remote.’

There have been countless books and documentaries following more exotic animals and mammals but reading Soper’s observations make the life of the badger every bit as entertaining and concerning. We seldom realise the effect man’s interference on the landscape has in even the smallest of ways, a hedge cut here, another removed there. An animal’s shelter is taken away and they are left confused, often homeless and pushed back into ever decreasing circles. This is why I would encourage anyone to read at least one wildlife book, they seldom lecture the reader or rail against man’s pursuit of mechanisation but rather encourage us to act in our own small ways to redress the balance and to enjoy and protect that which is struggling to survive on our doorsteps.


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