All About Badgers
The European badger (meles meles) belongs to the family of mammals known as the mustelidae (possessing musk glands), otherwise known as the weasel family and includes the otter, stoat, polecat, ferret and pine marten.
The name badger is believed to come from the French word ‘becheur’, meaning digger.
- Black and white striped face and a thick short neck
- Grey body with black fur on legs
- Long wedge shaped body with a short tail (varying shapes)
- Powerful front paws and long sharp claws
- Small head, small eyes and poor sight
- Large flexible nose and acute sense of smell
- Strong powerful teeth
- Small white-tipped external ears with acute hearing
- Head/body length up to 30 inches
- Average weight 8-9kg in spring.11-12kg in autumn
- Males (boars) are slightly larger and heavier than females (sows)
- Males have a more rounded and wider head while the female's head is narrower and more triangular.
- Exceptions to the above are badgers which have slight genetic differences - red-haired - erythristic, white-haired - albino and melanistic - all black but these are rare.
A nocturnal species rarely seen during the day. When not active, badgers usually lie up in an extensive system of underground tunnels and nesting chambers, known as a sett. Occasionally, when the weather is particularly hot, badgers may briefly come above ground during the daytime. The badger’s most important food is earthworms which are caught on pastures or in deciduous woodland, especially on wet nights. Other foods include bulbs (though not bluebells as commonly thought), small mammals and young rabbits. Carrion is eaten by badgers living in upland areas, but predation on farm livestock is rare. Blackberries and windfall apples are a major food source in the autumn. Cereals, particularly wheat, may be eaten, especially if other foods are in short supply.
Badgers live in social groups which may number up to 15 badgers headed up by a dominant male or female. Only one female badger in a social group normally breeds, although occasionally two or more may do so. Mating takes place throughout the year but the embryo does not implant and start growing until winter. This phenomenon is termed "delayed implantation" and maximises the chance of successful mating. Litters of two or three cubs are usually born in February. Cubs are born blind, pink with white silky fur and measure 5" long. Their eyelids are fused and open at around 5 weeks. After being suckled underground for eight weeks, they start to emerge from the sett at the end of April – beginning of May. They do not become totally independent from their mothers until 15 weeks old.
Badgers are widespread in Britain, but are most common in the south west of England, rare in East Anglia and only thinly distributed in Scotland. It is estimated that the badger population numbers around 250,000. Mortality is high, with around two thirds of cubs not reaching their first birthday and a third of adults dying each year. Road traffic accidents account for more than 50% of all known deaths. The maximum life expectancy of a badger is about 14 years, although very few survive so long.
Evidence for badgers - signs to look for
Badger setts are usually found in woodland where there is good cover and on sloping ground which has good drainage. Look out for
- Set entrances shaped like a D on its side
- Spoil heaps and excavated stones outside sett entrances
- Badger latrines
- Well-worn badger paths
- Snuffle holes
- Badger hair on barbed wire
- Badger pawprints in mud or snow
Badgers and the Law
Badgers and their setts are protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the Wildlife and Countryside
Act 1991. It is an offence to kill, injure, cruelly ill-treat or take a badger or in any way attempt to do
Interfering with a badger sett is also an offence except under exceptional circumstances under licence from Natural England. Committing an offence against a badger carries heavy penalties such as a prison sentence and fines. Dogs and equipment used to commit offences may also be confiscated.
Badger baiting (using dogs to fight a badger) has been outlawed since the last century and digging for them was made illegal by the Badgers Act 1973. Subsequent legislation has further strengthened the protection of badgers through the Wildlife and Countryside Acts and the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. So, at least in law, the badger is fully protected. However,reports of badger digging persist in various parts of the country, including Staffordshire. Badgers are dying in horrific ways from terrible injuries inflicted as a result of these illegal and barbaric activities and dogs involved may also be hurt. Therefore it is vital for those with the interests of the badger at heart to remain vigilant. Clear evidence including good descriptions of those involved, vehicle registration numbers etc are essential elements for successful prosecution of the criminals involved.
If you suspect that badger digging or baiting is taking place dial 999 and, if it is safe to do so, observe and make a note of full details of location, description of persons, dogs, equipment, vehicles and their registration numbers.
Do not approach those involved as this may be dangerous
If you know of or suspect someone of badger baiting or digging but do not want to get involved, then ring Crimestoppers - an independent charity working to fight crime - where you can call anonymously with information.
Crimestoppers 0800 555 111
Badgers and TB
It is accepted that there is a link between badgers and cattle in the spread of bovine TB (bTB) but the greatest transmission is from cattle to cattle due to:
- Weaknesses in the current TB testing regulations
- Most cattle are never tested
- Skin test misses around 20% of infected animals.
- Infected cattle sold on to infect previously clear herds.
- Poor biosecurity on farms
During the foot & mouth outbreak there was no testing and movement restrictions were in force. But when movement restrictions were lifted, untested cattle were bought & sold with widespread movement throughout the country. The result was outbreaks of bTB in areas free of the disease.
Badgers to cattle transmission
In 1971 a dead badger infected with bovine TB (bTB) was discovered on a farm that had suffered a bTB outbreak in its cattle herd and this seemed to give backing to the theory that badgers are a cause of TB in cattle. Since then there has been continued debate on whether badger culling could be effective in controlling the disease.
Over the intervening years, a number of different measures have been tried to control the disease in cattle by culling badgers. A 10-year (1998-2007) £50 million taxpayer-funded research programme by the government's Independent Scientific Group (ISG) concluded that a badger cull would have no meaningful impact on the bTB epidemic and that on a comparatively local scale it could make matters worse.
In 2009 Defra announced the launch of a Badger Vaccine Deployment Project. The purpose of the project will be to develop practical know-how for vaccinating badgers and will be conducted over five years in six areas worst affected by bovine TB in cattle in England.
One of the six areas is in Staffordshire in the Eccleshall area.
Badgers in the six areas will be trapped, vaccinated and released with the aim of reducing bTB in the badger population in these areas. Addressing this as just one of the possible transmission pathways in the spread of bovine TB in cattle could contribute to reducing the level of bTB outbreaks.
UPDATE Since the election of the new government in May 2010, it appears that this project will now be tested in just one area. The project will be based around the Stroud area in Gloucestershire and will commence in July.