The Badger Project & The Ley Community Rehabilitation Centre

Being involved with the natural world is a right, not a privilege, and for the last 16 years WildCRU has been working with the Ley Community, based in Yarnton, Oxford, to give residents the opportunity to connect with wildlife and support world-class research.

The Ley community runs a 6-9 month residential programme providing therapy to people with alcohol and drug addiction issues, from a diverse range of backgrounds, and is one of the most successful centres of its kind in the UK.

Over 150 residents have participated in our collaboration, helping us to monitor populations of badgers and other wildlife in the beautiful surroundings of Wytham Woods, just a few miles from the Ley Community.

This partnership began back in 2001 when Ley residents undertaking voluntary work placements at the Eathwatch Institute, based in Oxford, were sent out to participate as team members on a community wildlife initiative WildCRU ran at Wytham, monitoring various mammal populations. Alongside much more experienced amateur naturalists and conservation volunteers, the Ley participants stood out as having real-world practical skills, strong work ethics and – importantly – often a genuine and deep-felt compassion for other living creatures. In 2002, our collaboration won the National Charity Award for Community Involvement; but with Earthwatch shifting its focus to projects overseas, the Ley Community began to send residents to assist WildCRU directly in 2004, to work on our Badger Project.

Coming in pairs, residents spend a week with WildCRU’s Dr. Chris Newman and Dr. Christina Buesching and their team of international students. Having been involved with this Ley programme from the outset, and with personal friendships with former residents – some now staff members – Chris and Christina have gained a deep appreciation of the Ley programme, and the challenges residents face. This enables them to help channel the skills and interests of Ley volunteers and to develop a genuine camaraderie. Of course, the experience is usually outside the former comfort zone of many residents and therefore offers the opportunity for personal growth and development, building confidence in a work-place setting. Typical resident feedback often mentions a sense of achievement and of surprising themselves with their ability to succeed in helping with Oxford University research. Residents also value the peace and tranquillity of the woodland setting, the opportunity for perspective and clear ‘head-space’ away from their programme for a week, and the chance to do something meaningful. For some, being in nature stirs distant childhood memories of better, earlier times, for others it’s an entirely new experience, away from inner city life.

There are also substantial benefits for WildCRU’s research; fieldwork can be arduous, involving carrying heavy equipment through dense forest and up and down steep, muddy hills, and the person-power the Ley volunteers provide gets jobs done much more effectively. Ley volunteers also get to help record data and process samples (according to their skills and abilities), and help with maintaining facilities and equipment. Worthwhile too is the life-experience exchange between students and residents, where students also gain a broader awareness and understanding of the challenges other people face, in other walks of life. Indeed, from Chris and Christina’s experience of running citizen science expeditions for more than 1000 participants over 140 weeks in the field from 2000-2014, they rank Ley volunteers amongst the best assistants they get to work with.

WildCRU works hard on engagement across constituencies, and has advocated the practical and societal benefits of involving unconventional ‘citizen scientists’ in a number of journal publications and books (listed below). Ultimately, a flourishing society (what philosophers and ethicists term ‘eudaimonia’) is comprised by two things, the health and well-being of the people who live in that society and the quality of the world that they live in. It is partnerships such as this, which bring together compassion for the problems both people and wildlife face, that hold promise for living life well.

The Badger Project

How do we study badgers?
Insights into badger society
The effects of weather conditions on badger population dynamics
Genetics and mate choice
Social interactions
What we need
Our current team