Badgers triumph in set-to with Edinburgh Botanics

Fiona Inches examines the remains of her crocuses, eaten by badgers despite 'night eyes' beside the plants. Picture: Mike Day
Fiona Inches examines the remains of her crocuses, eaten by badgers despite 'night eyes' beside the plants. Picture: Mike Day
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CRAFTY badgers have defeated efforts by horticulturalists to stop them devouring beds of crocuses in Scotland’s most ­famous garden.

Staff at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) put out pairs of flashing “night eyes” in a bid to prevent resident badgers uprooting and eating the plants. 

The “eyes” – red lights triggered by movement sensors – are supposed to trick the nocturnal animals into thinking there is another badger there. But the badgers saw through the ploy and now return each night to munch their way through up to 50 crocuses at a time.

Garden supervisor Fiona Inches, who designed a polyanthus and crocus scheme near the attraction’s Victorian Palm House, said yesterday it was “badgers one, garden nil”. She said: “The badgers are after the starch in the bulbs as there’s not much food around for them in the winter.

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“The night eyes are two red dots placed at the badgers’ eye level, which flash when they pick up movement. They mimic another animal moving its head around, and encourage the badger to go elsewhere. We have them are in strategic areas around the garden, but we’ve been rumbled.

“Cream polyanthus, which have been flowering through the winter, were underplanted with crocus which should have come up in February as a nice contrast. The purple and cream would have brightened the place up for spring.

“Unfortunately, our overnight visitors are no longer deterred by the night eyes and have developed a taste for crocus. They’ve dug a whole section of polyanthus out to get to the crocuses underneath.

“They eat the new shoots and bulbs and leave the green tips at the side of the path.”

There are several badger setts around the RBGE. Although the omnivores are rarely seen by staff or visitors, at night they target slugs and snails and make holes in the lawns looking for worms. Ms Inches said the night eyes were a success until the badgers realised they weren’t animals at all.

She said: “The night eyes worked so well we probably left them in situ for too long.

“I think the badgers have become used to them. Digging out bulbs is fairly easy work for them – it’s a quick meal.

“It’s not a huge problem as the bedding is only temporary and will be replaced around May.”

This is not the first time the badgers have called the shots in the famous gardens.

In November, the RBGE was forced to close its spectacular night time light festival at 10pm so as not to disturb the animals. 

The curfew was imposed as the badgers are unused to being disturbed after the gates close to visitors at 6pm.

Speaking at the time David Knott, curator of living collections at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, said: “As an environmental organisation, ­although we deal primarily with plants, we also have an obligation to animals.

“In the planning stages of Botanic Nights, that was one of the concerns raised. There are a number of badger setts, but they’re nocturnal and not often seen.”

Ms Inches added: “We’ve got a diverse ecosystem of plants and animals including badgers, foxes and squirrels and we do get along reasonably happily.”