The European badger (Meles meles) is a characteristic mammal most commonly associated with the British countryside. Although a common species within the UK, badgers remain secretive and hidden throughout much of the day, opting to emerge from their setts during the evening and at night. Badgers are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods; with much of their diet consisting of earthworms, but are also known to also eat slugs, rodents, frogs, cereals, fruits, nuts and grubs. The weight of badgers varies with the seasons being 7-13kg in spring and getting up to the region of 15-17kg in autumn prior to the less active winter months. Badgers live in social groups of up to 14 adults and reside within setts (a series of underground tunnels and chambers) often located on slopes and in sheltered positions. Badgers occupy a large range of habitat types ranging from woods, and copses, to scrub, hedgerows and open fields, they are most abundant in areas with a good mix of habitats; though they can also be found around urban areas and housing developments.
Why are Badgers protected?
In the past badgers have been persecuted, leading to a major decline in their population. The Protection of Badgers Act (1992) was introduced in order to protect this species from intentional; cruelty such as baiting, poisoning, sett interference and snaring. The act also protects badgers from legal activities such as road and housing developments, forestry and agricultural operations and also ensuring that badger culling is permitted only after appropriate exemptions and been classified.
Badgers are protected under The Protection of Badgers Act (1992). This means that “It makes it an offence to kill, injure or take a badger from the wild. It is also an offence to damage or interfere with a sett unless a licence is obtained from a statutory authority”. The maximum sentence is up to six months imprisonment and or a fine of £5000 (the fine can be multiplied depending on number of badgers affected) and the destruction/disposal of a dog that has been used to enter a badger sett.
Physical features and signs
Badgers are very easily identifiable with distinct black and white striped head and grey fur. The average adult will measure in at about 75cm (30in), with a small head and eyes, a thick short neck and a long wedge shaped body. However due to their nocturnal lifestyle and shyness around people they can be a rare sight despite their relative abundance. Often it is equally important in being able to identify the signs of badgers to assess their presence:
Setts: generally built on slopes and embankments where the soil is generally well drained. The setts can range from a single entrance to multiple entrances leading into underground complexes. Sett entrances can vary in size but generally they measure at about 30cm at the bottom width and a height of around 20cm. An obvious tell-tale sign of an active badger sett is excavated soil outside the entrances.
Latrines: shallow holes called ‘dung pits’ re used for defecation purposes, with a collection of these making a latrine. Commonly these are found near feeding sites or near to the main setts.
Paths: Badgers are creatures of habit and will use the same musk-scented trails that their ancestors before them used. The paths are usually be a muddy trail through woodlands and grasslands to feeding sites, often getting less obvious the further away from their setts.
Hair and prints: badger hair is distinctive, when compared to other UK mammals such as the fox and rabbit. Dirty with a silver top and dark band, generally the hair is 70mm in length with an oval cross section. If rubbed between fingertips the hair feels course and wiry. Badger prints can also be used to distinguish identify the species, they have five claws and a large wedge shaped central pad, these may be more difficult to identify if not fresh.
Scratching trees: Scratch marks can be found on trees and dead wood near setts (often on elder), with vertical marks extending through to the base. The reason for these ranges from territorial markers, to claw maintenance and stretching after a day underground.
To find out more about identification visit the Badger Trust website
Badgers and Canal Restoration
With an estimated 288,000 badgers in the UK, it isn’t surprising to find badgers living alongside our active and derelict waterways. Setts can be found in embankments or cuttings; these provide optimal conditions for digging. Rural canals and navigations also provide a mosaic of habitats ideal for badger ecology. Depending on available habitat, landscape features, abundance of badgers, ecological corridors and food, the size of the home range can vary from 30 hectares in an optimum habitat to as large as 300 hectares in a poor habitat.
If the presence of badgers is known or is thought to be located near a proposed canal restoration site, then prior to restoration, destruction or building work, a badger survey should be part of the planning application, especially if the works could potentially affect the badgers. If it is deemed that badgers would be affected by the works a mitigation plan should be submitted to the planning authority and a licence acquired from the appropriate Statutory Nature Conservation Organization (SNCO). Depending on the necessity of works, mitigation options provided and whether the work would actually affect badgers, work would be either permitted or sent back to planning.
Examples of activates that may require a licence are:
Using heavy machinery within 30m of an active badger sett entrance.
Using light machinery particularly digging within 20m of active badger sett entrance.
Using hand tools or carrying out other lighter tasks such as scrub clearance within 10m of active badger sett entrance.
It can be difficult to determine whether a sett is active, especially in winter months where activity is at its lowest. The best indication of an active sett is recently excavated materials into a mound nearby the sett entrance. Generally speaking an active sett is also well maintained, for example a sett entrance in summer with an excess of fallen foliage, twigs and other materials could indicate that this entrance is not in face being used. Other indicators includes fur, prints and paths.
More detailed information can be found on the Badger Trust website.
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