| A badger's biscuit-sized footprints in the snow follow the field edge|
|After a week of freezing temperatures the weather has switched, with warmer air spreading from the south-west. Already the snow that fell so thickly last night has melted off the trees. In the fields it is ankle-deep and resisting the thaw; the breeze is chilled by miles of icy snow.|
Near a little stream the snow is flecked with dark green moving specks, shaped like small grains of rice. Green springtails (Isotoma viridis) are often observed on melting snow, but quite what they are doing there seems less certain. A badger walked this way last night. Its biscuit-sized footprints, with distinctive five-clawed toes, follow the field edge and turn into the end of a hedge. A badger path, clearly imprinted in the snow, runs up the centre of the hedge. I follow it to the wood edge and pick up the spoor in the wood. My plan of tracking the creature to its sett proves impossible. Not only is the snow broken by brambles and pocked by snow falling from the trees, the tracks of my badger are crossed by the tracks of deer, hare and, worst of all, other badgers.
I hear a great tit calling, lumps of snow falling and, in the distance, the crack of shotguns. A movement between the trees becomes a brown hare, another follows closely, and some way behind a third. They lope through the snow between the ashes and oaks, speeding up as they leave the wood and cross a white field.
A goldcrest bounces and flits through the understorey; every view of its black-bordered, bold yellow head-stripe is a little joy. A woodcock bursts out from a small fallen tree a few metres away, flashing its russet back, cocking its head, tucking its long bill down, as if hiding it, and fixing me with a rapidly receding beady black eye. The shotguns sound again, much closer now. Like the hares I decide it is time to make myself scarce; I reach the public footpath and stride out of the wood.