In Bilbrook Wood, the badger Beatha senses danger from nearby Burridge Farm, where dairy farmer Jake Barker is plotting to destroy her family and all she holds dear. Does she stay and risk it all? Or leave her ancestral home as winter fast approaches? This is Beatha’s story, where the peaceful natural world meets the world of power and greed, and where lives hang in the balance.
Targeted Age Group: 9 – 12
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wanted to write a book about a badger family for our children, in light of the controversial plans of a badger cull this summer. All proceeds from this book go to the Badger Trust who work tirelessly in defending these beautiful and innocent creatures.These are dark and desperate times for Britain’s badgers, accused by the farming community of spreading tuberculosis in cattle. But I believe the issues go further than just about these animals; it’s about defending our wildlife and environment from the greed of agriculture and idustry.The book is aimed towards 8-12yr olds but I hope adults will also enjoy it, and that it will encourage them to think about these issues and the fragile future of our planet.
In his dream he opens the back door to let the breeze in. It’s stifling and he’s having trouble breathing, needing to take a deep lungful of air before going back into the kitchen to finish the washing up. But as he looks up from the sink, he glances out of the window, and sees a leopard sauntering up the garden path. He runs then, dropping the dish, but knows somehow that he’s too late. The animal is already inside the house. It snarls and leaps up, drags him to the floor, pinning him down with hot breath on his face and sharp teeth at his throat. He is trapped, unable to move or scream. Then there is nothing; just silence and the darkness closing around him…
In the grainy morning light Jake woke with a start. Grunting, he rolled over to bang off the alarm shrieking at him from the bedside table. Beside him, his wife Ann murmured and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. ‘Testing day, today, hun?’ she said, yawning.
Jake nodded, pushing himself off the bed. It took effort to leave the warmth of the duvet but he should be used to this, he supposed, he’d been getting up at this hour since he was a nipper, dodging his dad’s heels at milking time.
He regarded the greying hair and bloodshot eyes in the mirror. ‘You look a sight,’ he told his reflection. Not receiving a reply, he splashed cold water on his face and went downstairs to grab a mug of coffee. Gulping down mouthfuls in between pulling on his overalls and boots, he felt much better once outside, breathing in the fresh air and the scent of the farm. Whistling for the dog, he strode off down the track to fetch the herd, finding them already waiting for him by the fence.
‘Let’s be having you then, ladies,’ he said, swinging open the gate. ‘It’s a big day for you lot.’ The head cow led them up the path and into their stalls without incident – a well practised routine by now – and it wasn’t long before they were all in and chomping breakfast while their frothy milk filled up the bulk tank at the side of the barn. They were nearly done when Jake heard the crunch of car tyres coming up the lane.
‘There’s the vet,’ he muttered as his stomach dipped.
‘Morning, Jake,’ said Mike, swinging himself out of the car. ‘How are things?’
‘Well, you know how it is. A struggle at the moment what with the price I get for my milk. The supermarkets have us over a barrel.’
Mike nodded and pulled out his medical bag. ‘It’s a tough business, these days. So many farmers are struggling.’
‘Yeah. And I’ve had to let my staff go.’ Jake sighed, feeling the weight of it all rest heavy on his shoulders. ‘Still, the herd seem well enough,’ he added, ‘At least we can do something about those badgers now, eh? I’ve applied for the licence, like.’
‘That’s good, Jake. We need to lick this disease somehow. TB is such a problem. Now, let’s get started, shall we?’ said Mike, pulling out the first syringe. ‘Ready?’
‘How’d it go, love,’ asked Ann, later, when Jake was tucking into a much needed breakfast.
‘Won’t know until Wednesday,’ he replied, through a mouthful of bread and butter. He shook his head, remembering the nightmare this morning. It was no surprise to him that he wasn’t sleeping well, considering the financial cliff they were on. If any of his herd contracted TB, well, it didn’t bear thinking about. ‘Got to keep an eye out for lesions, the vet said. Is Lizzie up yet?’
Ann nodded. ‘She’s had breakfast. I’ll stop for a few things in town after dropping her off at school.’ Bending down, Ann kissed his unshaven cheek. ‘It’ll be OK, you know. The herd will be fine. We survived Foot and Mouth, didn’t we?’
Jake smiled, and gave her hand a squeeze. ‘Yeah, we did.’ It had been a fraught time back then, but their livestock had come through without infection. It had felt like a miracle at the time. But there was always something, and now this TB threat hung over him like an axe.
A young girl skipped down the stairs interrupting his thoughts, swinging her rucksack and singing a tune from the latest pop song that was playing on the radio in her bedroom.
‘Morning love,’ he said, as Lizzie appeared in the kitchen. ‘You ready for school?’ He glanced at his daughter and felt a sense of pride. She was doing well and had turned out to be a bright kid. Although she loved the farm and the animals, he didn’t like the idea of her having the tough farming life he’d had. She deserved better than that. The decision to send her to a private school outside the village had been an easy one. But it was becoming much harder to afford the fees, and Jake was putting off making any decisions just yet.
Lizzie nodded and stretched out her arms for a hug. ‘Morning, Dad. We’ve got double maths today,’ she announced, wrinkling up her nose.
Jake chuckled and gave her a big hug. ‘Double maths, eh? Hope you won’t need help with your homework. Useless at sums, I am.’ He ruffled her hair, and sent her off to the car with a kiss, and watched as Ann drove off. When they’d gone he padded through the hall to fetch his rifle from its box in the basement. The weather hadn’t improved any as he made his way down the field to check on the badger traps; still the same gloomy sky against the surrounding fields and autumn leaved woods. The trees were awash with colour – reds, yellows, gold, and the dead leaves crunched beneath his feet. But the air felt oppressive and hardly raised Jake’s spirits, especially when he found the first of his cages standing empty.
‘Hey, what’s this?’ The cage looked tampered with and had definitely been tripped. Footprints marked the area in the soft mud, and the peanuts he’d baited it with were gone. Someone’s been interfering, he thought, tightening his jaw. ‘Ruddy meddlers.’ He’d staked out the near-by sett and had counted at least five badgers living there. He hoped to cage-trap at least one or two of them, making it easier to shoot the others later.
Resetting the trap and shaking more peanuts from the bag, he pushed the strap of his rifle up on his shoulder and set off down the wood to check on the other cages. It would have made his life a whole lot easier, but when had that ever happened? Nothing ever came easy in his experience.
About the Author:
I am a writer and author of a first collection of poetry, Phases of the Moon published by Winter Goose Publishing in 2012. My newest book is a children’s fiction novel, Beatha – A Badger’s Story written to help raise funds for the Badger Trust. A nature lover and defender of Gaia, I am inspired by the beautiful countryside of Somerset in South West England. I love reading and writing, and allowing my thoughts and emotions to breath through the power of artistic expression.