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Ecology

Relatives
Badgers belong to the Mustelid family and so are closely related to stoats, weasels, polecats and otters. These animals share similar traits, such as being short and squat, with low slung bodies and the ability to scent mark. The badger ranges throughout the UK, across Europe and into the Middle-East, with slight changes in diet and behaviour with the differing climates. A male badger is called a boar and a female a sow. Badgers have inhabited the UK for hundreds of thousands of years, coming and going with the ice ages.

Setts and Territories
Badgers live in complex underground homes called setts. Some of the oldest known setts in the UK date back to the Domesday book written in 1086, being several meters deep and over 50 meters long. A sett is made up of a series of tunnels and chambers. The chambers are used for sleeping and the birth and rearing of cubs. Badgers are nocturnal and so do not leave their setts until dusk, returning before dawn after a night spent foraging. In areas where there is little human noise and disturbance badgers can emerge during the day. Badger territories can cover a few square miles in areas of low population like in Norfolk, with many additional single holes and subsidiary setts within the territory. The entrances to badger tunnels are often in a semi-circular shape, being generally 30cm wide and 20cm tall. This differs to fox tunnels, which are generally taller than they are wide.

Senses
Badgers have a great sense of smell, navigating the woodlands at night mainly with their noses. They follow their own trails that stretch throughout the territory, distinct well-worn paths. Their hearing is also incredibly good, making badger watching even trickier. Badgers’ eye sight is perhaps the weakest sense, not being fully adapted to a nocturnal life. Some biologists still question whether badgers should be nocturnal at all due to the poor quality of their vision.

Sett Hierarchy
Several badgers can live within a sett, with record numbers of 20+ badgers living within one sett. However, in general (from personal experience in Norfolk) an average of 5-7 badgers will inhabit one main sett. This normally consists of a dominant male and female with a couple of seasons of cubs. The dominant pair may push previous year’s cubs out of the main sett during pregnancy and cub rearing. A dominant male is often a grumpy and more aggressive animal, which can become obvious after watching a sett of badgers for a while. A group of badgers is called a clan and they regularly scent mark on each other to reinforce their family bonds. Territories are marked with scent and dung pits but are loosely defended.

Diet
Despite badgers often being labelled as carnivores they are in fact omnivores. A badger’s diet consists of a wide range of food sources, their favourite being earth worms. A badger can consume over 100 worms in one night but depending on the season they will also eat wild fruits, fungi, cereal crops and carrion. They can walk several miles in a night through foraging in different habitats.

Cubs
Badger cubs are normally born in February, with an average of two cubs per female. A female can give birth after one year but generally have their first cubs in their second or
third year. Cubs are born blind, developing sight after 5 weeks and leaving the setts for the first time at the age of 10 weeks, in approximately May. They soon become independent from the females, learning where the best foraging grounds are and what to eat.

Benefits of Having Badgers
Badgers are an intrinsic part of our native woodland ecosystems, contributing greatly towards floristic diversity by disturbing the soil and allowing germination of native flora.
They even help in shaping the landscapes of woods and forests by causing some trees to fall creating sunlit glades. Within badger dung, many seeds such as elder, bird cherry and bramble germinate, diversifying the woodland further. These three shrub species provide nectar and food for countless other animal species.

Badger Watching
Badgers are fascinating animals to watch in the wild, however due to their nocturnal and wary nature this can be tricky. For best results it is easiest to watch badgers over the summer when they are most active and new cubs are less wary. Getting to the sett an hour before sunset is a good guide. You need to sit downwind of the sett to avoid the badgers smelling you and wear reasonably dark clothing that does not rustle. I often choose to sit against a tree around 20 meters from the sett to blend in, as well as for comfort. Patience is key. Personally I do not use a torch or feed badgers, preferring to watch them behave naturally. Always try and leave the sett once the badgers have dispersed. If a badgers gets wind that you are there then it will run back to its sett, not emerging for an hour or two later, losing foraging time. Happy badger watching!.

Further Information/Advice
For more advice on badger watching or for further information on badger ecology please feel free to email us via the contacts page. Alternatively check out the badger bible – “Timothy Roper – Badgers”, a worthwhile investment.