Badgers, Burns and Barriers


A walk with Elaine Rainey (Scottish Badgers), Glen Cousquer (University of Edinburgh) and others at Boghall Burn by the University’s Easter Bush Campus, by the Pentlands. We are working towards a paper on ‘Embracing the 30x30 biodiversity challenge on veterinary campuses’.


We encounter various barriers this morning.

The entrance to the Vet School is locked, so I wait for someone to access the building with their card and surreptitiously follow them inside. Already a trespasser.

A travelling community had moved their caravans into the overflow carpark and, as they had begun to enter the building, a heavy-handed lockdown was in place.

I thought about this policing of space as we walked towards the burn.

We pass a hedgerow and peer into its tangled branches to see the plastic guards and chicken wire. This hedge was not so hedgehog friendly, but Elaine suggested that badgers could probably pass over the metal barriers without much bother.

Glen asks us to pause before we cross the threshold into the site and reads 'Walk Slowly' by Danna Faulds:


The harsh voice

of judgment drops to a whisper and I

remember again that life isn’t a relay

race; that we will all cross the finish

line; that waking up to life is what we

were born for.


We follow the path through the mixed woodland and note how the new birch trees are still bound in plastic.

Other saplings are surviving the roe deer’s passage without the need for such protection.

The inaccessibility of this muddy, steep winding path, which crosses the burn over rickety bridges, means that we need to be mobile as we negotiate the shifting terrain.

Not everybody would be able to come with us.

The whole site is a lesson in inclusions and exclusions: we need to protect this place and prevent the new housing development from bringing too many people into a fragile ecology.

But welcoming in, rather than keeping out, sits better with our aspirations and ethos.

Can this site be an enclosure and an exclosure at the same time?

As the geographer Doreen Massey has suggested, ‘multiplicity, antagonisms and contrasting temporalities are the stuff of all places’ (2005, 159). There are therefore no hard and fast rules, and universal politics are not possible:

The issue is one of power and politics as refracted through, and often actively manipulating space and place, not one of general ‘rules’ of space and place. For there are no such rules, in the sense of a universal politics of abstract spatial forms; of topographic categories. Rather, there are spatialised social practices and relations, and social power. (...) It is a genuinely political position-taking not the application of a formula about space and place. (166)

Opening or closing space is not necessarily good and bad respectively, and the same arguments have been used by the Left for protecting the territories of small tribes (closing space) and accepting immigrants through a freer border control (opening space). Likewise, unequal power relations can result in both openness and closure of space by a complex interplay of ‘settledness and flow’ (174). So, ‘simply saying “no” to nation, home, boundaries and so forth is not in itself a political advance (it is spatial fetishism to think it will be)’ (174).

As we walk back through the wood and return to the campus, we have passed multiple barriers.

But we need to leave many in place, to maintain them, to create them.

After all, life is not a race. We can be slowed, prevented from progressing, stopped…

In the end, ‘we will all cross the finish line’ 



Faulds, Danna, 'Walk Slowly', in Go In and In: Poems from the Heart of Yoga, Peaceable Kingdom Books, 2002.

Massey, Doreen, For Space, London: SAGE Publications, 2005


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