Badgers were one of the first species to be protected under law when badger-baiting become illegal in 1835. Now under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, it is an offence to kill, injure or take a badger or disturb a sett without a licence from Natural England. Currently badgers are the focus of controversy with the efforts to control transmission of bovine tuberculosis and there is the possibility of widespread eradication of badgers.
Badgers excavate extensive tunnel systems, or setts, which are used by generations of animals. These are often found in woodland slopes and the large tunnel entrances are surrounded by spoil and discarded bedding material.
Waiting for emergence from the sett is the best way to see badgers in the wild. Badgers use regular pathways through woodland and across fields and may leave tufts of paletipped hair in wire fences or brambles. The distinctive paw print is broad with clearly visible claw marks. Badgers will often roll back large areas of turf in search of invertebrates and may dig out bumble bee nests from banks. They mark the boundaries of their territories with latrines, where the loose droppings are deposited in shallow open pits, often close to hedge lines or fences.
The badger is well
numbers stable or
over the last 40 years. Found across the UK, the badger is most common in the South West. There are estimated to be 250-300,000 badgers in Britain. The badger
occurs across Europe to Asia with the
exception of northern Scandinavia and the Mediterranean islands.
Traffic casualty monitoring
Field sign - tracks, dung pits and fur
The large, heavily set badger is
unfortunately most often seen dead by the side of the road. The badger is a member of the weasel family and its blackand-white striped head and thick grey coat make it easy to identify. Males (boars) may be up to 90 cm long and weigh about 12kg, although badgers have been recorded weighing over 27 kg. Females (sows) are generally smaller. Badgers have short, powerful legs with well-developed claws on each foot which they use both in digging their tunnels and in searching for food. They are very timid and have excellent hearing and sense of smell, their vision is relatively poor.
Badgers most frequently live in deciduous woodland but they may also dig setts in
large gardens or along railway embankments. Setts are normally dug in light or sandy soil, rather than clay. They live in family groups (or clans) of between 2 and 20 animals, spending most of the day in the sett. Female badgers collect bracken and grass as bedding and the discarded material can be seen outside the entrance to the sett.
At dusk the badgers emerge cautiously from their sett and groom themselves before setting off over regularly used tracks to look for food. Clans occupy territories of 30 to 150ha around the sett, often including areas of pasture and arable fields.
They eat mainly earthworms, which they locate by snuffling in turf, leaving distinctive
holes in fields and lawns. Seasonally they also eat fruit (being particularly fond
of blackberries), root crops and cereals, favouring fodder maize, and occasionally
small mammals including mice, hedgehogs and rabbits. Badgers are very fond of
wasp and bee nests which they will dig out of banks in search of the grubs.
Generally only a single female in each group will breed each year, giving birth to up to 5 cubs. Mating generally occurs between February and May but cubs are not born until the following January or February, as the implantation of fertilised eggs is delayed. The cubs are blind and dependent on the mother for 5 to 6 weeks and emerge from the sett in April or May. The cubs are weaned at 3 months; females mature at 12 to 15 months and males at 2 years. Although 65% of cubs die in their first year badgers may live up to 19 years, although 3 to 6 years is more usual.
Badgers have no natural predators and most deaths are the result of interaction with
humans or with other badgers. Road casualties are a major cause of mortality,
estimated at about 20% of the population each year, as badgers seem to take little
notice of traffic on their nightly rounds.
Badgers in Cornwall are often infected with
bovine tuberculosis (BTB) which may be transmitted to cattle. The control of BTB is
a major problem for dairy and beef farmers in the county, with nearly 623,000 tests
carried out in 2012 and more than 3000 cattle slaughtered. Various approaches to
culling badgers have been, and are being, tested but other methods, including
vaccination of the badgers, are being considered.
© David Chapman