by Annette J Beveridge
Badgers are iconic creatures and easily recognisable with their characteristic black and white striped faces. Nocturnal, they emerge from the sett at dusk so are not easy to see and this makes any sighting a precious one. They are widespread throughout Europe and in Britain, more commonly so in the south and west of England. Their natural habitat is deciduous woodland and farmland, but they can even be found around coastal cliffs.
Badgers usually excavate soil in their favoured habitat, but they will also excavate under man-made structures where necessary. The setts can be extensive with many underground tunnels and multiple entrances. Any material which has been removed will usually form a heap on the slope leading away from the sett. Large setts are usually well-established and therefore, may have been used for years. The tunnels may extend for 30 metres and are wider than they are in height. They suit the badger’s stocky build and enable ease of movement. There are often multiple layers to the tunnels and there will be designated areas for sleeping and for rearing the young.
Badgers are clean animals and frequently change their bedding which is usually dry leaves, bracken, or straw. They move away from the sett to deposit any droppings but are always wary when they first emerge, sniffing the air to check for any sign of danger. If you are looking for badgers, watch out for a tree with scratches on it as badgers use one tree regularly to sharpen their claws.
There are usually several adult males (boars) and females (sows) and one or two litters of cubs. Badgers recognise those in the same group (clan) by their scent and will often back onto another badger while raising its tail. This secrets a strong liquid odour from a gland placed beneath the tail.
Note: If interested in setting up camera traps, look out for well-established pathways through their territory.
During the autumn months, badgers need to eat plenty so to lay down ample fat layers beneath the skin. This is not for hibernation but their activity does reduce dramatically and their layer of fat will help them to survive the cold winter months. Their food is varied. As omnivores, they eat earthworms mainly but will take slugs and other invertebrates. In fact, when food is scarce, they may eat small mammals, but fruit is always a welcome part of the diet. Think of badgers as being opportunistic.
Badgers mate during the months of February through to October. They use a technique called delayed implantation and the egg, once fertilised does not begin to develop until December. Cubs are born eight weeks later from mid-January to mid-March. They are usually blind when born and remain in the safety of the sett until they are 8 weeks old. At 12 weeks of age, they are weaned. Some cubs remain with the family group while others leave and search out new territories. Females are ready to breed between 12 and 15 months, but males take longer and are usually over 2 years of age before they begin to breed.
Bovine TB and badgers
Badgers are considered beneficial to the environment, but they have long been persecuted. If we turn the clock back to the 1970’s in the south-west of England, some badgers were found to have the bacteria that can lead to Tuberculous (TB) in cattle. To prevent the potential spread of TB, thousands of setts were gassed. Fast forward to 2013, and two badger culls were authorised in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Now in 2020, the culling still continues and has become more extensive, this is distressing for all who love badgers as there is little evidence to suggest that a cull even stops Bovine TB. Thousands of badgers will die this year alone.
Although badgers are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992 (England and Wales) this is not sufficient to protect them from an authorised cull. If this is not enough, they are also persecuted by badger digging and baiting and badgers are caught by the use of trained and aggressive dogs and are then put to fight. This cruel sport may lead to thousands of badgers suffering additionally each year.
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