Last night I learned that my badger-man and friend, Gareth Morgan, had died.
I met Gareth as I was writing The Beauty in the Beast – he took me to the sett he had been studying for the past 30 years and talked so lovingly and movingly about the beautiful animals. He loved them, and nature, with a passion and a deep, wise, knowledge.
Though he was a very gentle man, buzzing with an energy belying his 70 years, he could be moved to anger and action. As it was in protection of the badgers he loved, when he spoke out about the plans to cull. His anger was directed in large part not at the farmers, but at the supermarket chains that bind farmers into impossible contracts so that they pay the farmer less for the milk than it costs to produce. We walked the fields of his mid-Wales home and he pointed to the grass in what seemed like a idyllic field. But no, his sharp eyes had noted just one species of grass. ‘I detest silage,’ he said. ‘I think it is the worst thing that happened in farming, because that’s why we have no flowers…That is why we have no birds nesting in the fields…This is like Astroturf.’ And there is evidence that the poor quality of food this produces has an impact on the cows and the badgers, increasing the risk of bovine TB.
But mostly, as we sat and watched his badgers come within a few feet of us, it was love that drove him. ‘I love them like I love my wife,’ he told me, without a hint of hyperbole. ‘Sometimes she will ask me not to go up on a night, but it is like a magnet, something pulls me…she thinks I am setts mad.’
I recorded the time we spent together and have made a short podcast of him talking about badgers and featuring his amazing voice – I could listen to him for hours.
It was not just badgers, he was in love with the natural world. And so it was that his last outing, when he died, was to the osprey project he so loved near Machynlleth. His wife, Marion, told me that he died doing something he loved. And he will be buried in the clothes he wore out in the wilds – his camouflage trousers, old jumper and body-warmer and ‘his dirty old cap’. There will be wild flowers at the funeral and they have had to book the biggest church in Newtown, such was the impact that this wonderful man had on so many people.
I will close this with a few more words he gave me.
‘We’ve got to fall in love with nature. And my badgers and your hedgehogs, they are like gatekeepers to the wider wonder of the natural world. I bring people down here at eight o’clock for an hour and I find I am still here at one in the morning. I get the barn owls quartering the field, probably hunting for the woodmouse that sometimes sits on my knee. And then there was the stag beetle that would come and take peanuts, one at a time. You know, there was a blackbird who would sit on my shoulder and a chaffinch who would follow me from the car to the sett where he would wait for a peanut.’
‘We should be in love with nature; it’s all we have got. I’m coming on seventy now, and I’m not going to be here soon. But for my children and for theirs, we have to do something.’
Dear Gareth, you will be missed.