Introduction – The EURASIAN BADGER: The European badger, Meles meles, is in the Mustelidae family, which also includes stoats, weasels and otters. These are all members of a group of animals called the Carnivora. The name badger is probably derived from the French word becheur (digger), introduced during William the Conqueror’s reign.
A male badger is a boar, a female a sow and a young badger is a cub. The collective name for a group of badgers is a clan, colony, or cete.
Recognition – European badgers are one of Britain’s largest mammals, weighing up to 12 kg. Most badgers have a striped black and white face with small white-tipped ears and grey body, though their fur can become stained by the local soil. A few individuals are albino, and there are small populations of reddish (erythristic) badgers in certain areas of Britain.
The badger’s body is designed for digging. It is wedge-shaped with well-developed muscles on the forelimbs and neck, and short, very strong legs and long claws. Digging activity is for enlarging the home, a large underground complex of burrows called a sett.
Ecology – Badgers are social animals, often living in large groups of adults and young. They are nocturnal, which means they usually leave their setts at dusk or later. They emerge cautiously, sniffing and listening for signs of danger. Once they are sure it is safe, they leave to groom, play and forage.
Well-established setts normally have several entrances which are much larger than rabbit holes, and which have large piles of earth outside. The sett consists of large chambers for sleeping and breeding and small ones used as latrines, interlinked by a maze of tunnels. One study found a well-established sett in the Cotswolds with twelve entrances which had tunnels totaling 310 metres. It was estimated that the badgers had excavated 25 tonnes of soil throughout the years to create this complex. Tunnels can be four metres deep, though most are less than one metre underground and often follow surface contours. This helps with air circulation, while ventilation holes sometimes connect a tunnel to the surface.
If you are intrigued by what a sett is like underground, ‘Badger (Meles meles) setts: architecture, internal environment and function’ by Roper in the journal Mammal Review (1992) volume 22 number 1 pages 43 to 53, describes the complexes of chambers, nests and latrines, tunnel systems, temperature and humidity conditions, and possible behavioural functions of differently sized setts.
Though they belong to the Carnivora, their diet is actually omnivorous. Badgers specialise in eating earthworms, though studies have shown a variety of foods are eaten throughout the year, such as insects, amphibians, small mammals, carrion, cereals, fruit, and fungi. They are found, usually in areas of deciduous woodland near open cultivated land, throughout Britain, though less in East Anglia and rarely in Scotland. They are most common in southern and western parts of England.
Characteristic signs indicating presence of badgers – If you would like to watch badgers there are several signs to look for, to help you decide if badgers are around. Some of the most noticeable are:
Badger paths linking sett entrances and foraging areas
Tufts of black and white hair caught on barbed wire
Claw marks scratched on tree trunks
Spoil heaps of earth outside sett entrances
Bedding dropped on paths or near sett entrances
Bundles of bedding aired on sunny days by sett entrances
A badger snuffle hole
Further Information – If you would like more information about badger natural history, there are other web sites you can access (see the Links page). Alternatively you can choose from a selection of relevant books which can be ordered electronically or by traditional methods, or perhaps borrowed from a library. The Natural History Book Service lists include definitive works by Ernest Neal a leading authority on badgers, natural history studies and a bibliography of badger literature, as well as an HMSO pamphlet covering the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
Badger Problems – Badgers increasingly have to adapt to urban life, due to pressure on our countryside. They may occasionally be a minor nuisance by eating fruit or root vegetables, or by making shallow pits in lawns when searching for grubs or earthworms. Providing badgers with an alternative food-supply will minimise this damage, and they make fascinating visitors. ‘Problems with Badgers?’ gives advice on how to respond to these and other badger-related problems, and can be ordered from Natural History Book Service badger list.
Over 50 percent of wild badgers die in their first year. If they survive the first year, they may live for five or six years. The most common cause of death is road accidents. Other causes include baiting, snaring, shooting, disease, starvation, fighting and old age. Injured or orphaned badgers should be looked after at an animal hospital and if possible released back to the wild. If such an animal is found advice should be sought from a local badger group/wildlife rescue group (see Links page).
Injured badgers – You may find a badger caught in a snare or trap, hit by a car, or injured. Injured or snared badgers will be frightened and can be very dangerous. They are strong animals and are not used to being handled, so if you try to touch an injured badger, you are likely to be bitten. The best action is to cover the animal with a dustbin or a box with a heavy weight on it, then call the RSPCA or police. They will tell the local badger group who may run a 24 hour rescue service. Remember to record exactly where you saw the animal if you are not able to stay with it, so that clear directions can be given.
For some pictures of badgers, including pictures of setts, traps, etc. See the photo gallery.