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Badger

Badgers foragingApplied Ecology Ltd ecologists have extensive experience in conducting badger surveys and badger mitigation. We can help positively to resolve any development issue involving badgers.

Background

Badgers Meles meles live in small social groups within a territory that usually contains a large main sett (a network of tunnels and chambers where the badgers live and raise their young) and several lower status setts that are typically used less frequently than the main sett.   Setts are usually built on sloping ground, but they can also be found in less obvious places such as the edges of arable fields, in disused pipes and even under buildings.  The badgers’ territory boundary is marked by regularly spaced latrines.

Conservation status

Badgers occur across most of Britain and Ireland and can be common or very common in particular parts, especially the south of England, the Midlands, and south-west Wales. Populations are threatened by development (leading to a loss of foraging area and increased road casualties) and habitat loss and fragmentation.

Badger populations have also been subject to persecution and to disturbance as a result of recreational activities. Despite this, numbers are thought to be increasing. Badgers are primarily protected for welfare concerns (e.g. in relation to badger baiting) rather than for conservation reasons.

Legislation

The badger is listed under Appendix III of the Bern Convention, as a species that is in need of protection but may be hunted or otherwise exploited in exceptional instances.  Individual badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which makes it illegal to kill, injure or take badgers or to interfere with a badger sett.  Badgers are also protected under Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) in England, Scotland and Wales; Schedules 5, 6 and 7 of the Wildlife Order 1985 in Northern Ireland; and under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife Act 1976 (as amended) in the Republic of Ireland.

Only setts that are currently in use are covered by wildlife legislation.  Licences for badgers are therefore only likely to be required when works will occur at or near a sett showing clear signs of current use, and the sett will be damaged or destroyed; or when there will be fairly extreme noise or ground disturbance in close proximity to the sett.

Licensing

A survey licence is not required for general badger survey involving non-intrusive investigation of setts.  A licence is required only where intrusive surveying is necessary (e.g. using remote controlled cameras) and may disturb badgers within setts.  Survey licences are issued by Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, or the National Parks and Wildlife Service (Republic of Ireland), depending on survey location.

Survey

Badger surveys can be undertaken at any time of year, although the optimum time is during late winter/spring when animals are most actively marking their territory with latrines, and ground vegetation is less well developed, making field signs easier to see.  Surveys usually involve looking for sett entrances, badger paths, latrines, badger hairs (on fences and vegetation), scratching posts and evidence of digging for food.

Badger path through vegetation leading to a sett at Inverness Airport

Badger path through vegetation leading to a sett at Inverness Airport

Where a development is likely to have a negative impact on the size of a badger group’s territory and/or a main sett might be lost, a bait-marking survey can help to quantify the loss of territory and inform a suitable mitigation and compensation approach.  With this type of survey, badgers at a main sett are fed food containing coloured plastic pellets which pass harmlessly through the badgers’ digestive tract and show up in their dung, thereby enabling surveyors to tell whether or not a latrine belongs to that particular social group.  This technique is also useful for mapping the territories of multiple badger social groups, as different coloured pellets can be fed to different social groups.

Recently excavated outlier sett

 

Mitigation

The presence of badgers on a development site can lead to planning permission being refused unless it can be demonstrated that the badgers will be adequately protected during the development process, that disturbance will be kept to a minimum and, if necessary, that an adequate alternative habitat will be provided to sustain at least the existing population.

Ideally setts and foraging habitat should be retained within a development site but if they cannot, then the badgers must be excluded (under licence) to protect them from harm. The exclusion process may take up to three weeks and, only once the licence holder is confident that all the badgers have departed, can the sett be carefully excavated.

Exclusion of badgers from a sett using a one-way gate. Work carried out under Natural England licence for Cranfield University

If a main badger sett needs to be demolished, an artificial badger sett (as close to the original one as possible) can be created but foraging habitat must also be retained or created. Fencing and tunnels can also be installed if new or existing roads pose a danger to the badgers.

Artificial sett construction on behalf of Cranfield University

Translocation of badgers to a new site is not usually feasible as badgers are territorial and occur at high density in all areas of suitable habitat.

See Survey Calendar for survey timings.

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