Words and pictures: Mat Bingham
Cutlers Rough has absorbed a lot of my time and energy this year. Other photography projects put on hold, but that is the way of things. Every year I sketch out ideas in a journal I keep. It’s rare that I stick to them, thoughts put to paper, incomplete, unrealised. I am often drawn to one thing, a mini obsession if you will and this year is no different. I have been captivated by two families: the badgers and foxes of Cutlers Rough.
Cutlers Rough is familiar to me. I recognise individual trees. I notice the subtle changes in light as the year progresses. The world turns, nothing is stationary, everything is always in a state of flux. I often visit the wood at lunchtime, a lush green oasis in a sea of concrete and steel.
The bluebells have died back, leaving a blanket of dog rose on the woodland floor that reaches out for the light, amber shafts that beam through the leafy canopy above. Brambles lie in wait, creeping across the animal trails as if they have been set by a poacher ready to ensnare passers-by. Often I set up the camera overnight on one of these well used paths.
On a warm evening in July a badger ventures from the sett not long after midnight. The guard hairs on his back stand out, frozen by the flash as he triggers the infra-red sensor taking his own selfie. He ignores the camera – a minor inconvenience. There are other trails through the wood but he chooses to use this one repeatedly. The final photograph of the evening is of the badger on his way home to the sett, about an hour before dawn.
He is not the only animal to use the path – there are a pair of fox cubs that are often together in the woods. They play near an old tree stump next to the trail. This must be a good time in their lives, plenty of food and the security fencing protecting them from the world outside, a world full of dangers for young foxes. Their mum is sometimes caught on camera, chaperoning her cubs in the wood. Cutlers Rough is only large enough to support one vixen and her cubs. Next year she will turn her attention to raising a new family and she will not tolerate her older offspring near the den. They will be chased from the woods. I worry about where they will end up, but foxes are nothing if not resourceful.
At the main entrance to the water treatment works there is another family of foxes, which I like to think of as urban foxes, often seen playing or scavenging for food in daylight, roaming the streets of Birmingham, city folk in full view. I fancy my foxes in Cutlers Rough are rural foxes, rarely seen during the day, shy and secretive. Only the camera records their comings and goings.
When I first started this project in April I photographed a muntjac deer. It was looking for the peanuts I had left out for the badgers. I would often hear him bark from within the woods late at night, calling vainly in the hope of finding a doe. In late spring and through the summer his calls were missing from the woods. Then, in August, he returned. Perhaps, during one evening in the spring, he had left Cutlers Rough and couldn’t find his way back in past the security fencing.
In July the badgers decided to do some renovations to their home, digging a new tunnel nearer to the reservoir embankment that borders the woods. This new entrance to the sett is well used, favoured over some of the older ones which have become overgrown. The badgers often drag fresh bedding into their maze of tunnels, plants stripped of their leaves to provide a cosy bed to sleep away the day. All the noise and vibrations from the construction works going on around their home must keep them awake. Maybe this is why it is usually long after sunset when they leave the sett in search of food. Badgers never seem to be in a hurry to do anything, if food is plentiful there is no rush to go out foraging. They must often bump into the foxes on their nightly forays but I haven’t managed to catch them both in a photograph yet.
The world turns, everything is starting to slow down as summer gives way to autumn.
See more of Mat’s stunning wildlife photography on his website.