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The name badger is probably derived from the French word 'bécheur' meaning digger. 'Brock' probably originated in Scandinavia and is retained in the gaelic languages.
Badgers belong to the Mustelidae (weasel) family of carnivores. The weasel, otter, polecat, marten, mink, fisher, grison, sable, skunk and wolverine are all close relatives. Badgers are spread over all continents other than Australasia and Antarctica. Our badger (meles meles) is the most widespread over Europe and Asia, but the others include the American badger, the Hog badger of East and South Asia, the Chinese ferret badger and the Indonesian and Palawan stink badger.
The only threats to badgers are man and dogs. Man destroys the badger's habitat through development and changes of land use and will block setts and even indulge in badger-baiting.
The male badger is called a boar, the female a sow and their young cubs. After mating the fertilised egg is retained by the sow as a blastocyst until later it implants in her uterus.
Adult badgers average length is 76cm (30") with 15cm (6") tails. They weigh an average of 9 kilos (20lbs) in early Spring and 12 kilos (26lb) in late Autumn. Females are usually slightly smaller and lighter.
Although the badger's favourite food is worms, the diet chart shows that badgers are omnivorous. They will eat anything they can reach or catch, be it alive or dead. The size of their feeding range depends on the density of worms in the soil. They generally need about 200 worms a night. In ideal conditions there may be 100,000 worms per acre (0.4ha). In drier areas it will be less and the badgers will have to travel further afield to find enough food. In frosty or dry weather worms are driven down into the soil - out of the badger's reach and they must turn to other sources of food. Badgers have been known to forage over as much as 30 acres (12ha) in poor conditions. The shape and flexibility of a badger's snout helps it to 'hoover' up worms from the grass. Badgers derive a lot of their water from juicy worms and the dew they imbibe with them but they need sources of water. If these dry up, the badgers are forced to roam further.
Badgers live underground in a sett. They prefer well drained soil - holes at different levels improve ventilation. They will dig outlier holes nearby, often used by displaced males. Some areas show signs that badgers have probably used that location for hundreds of years.
Their holes average 25cm (10") diameter and often show obvious signs of fresh digging. Look for their prints and lumps of chalk or clay scored by their strong claws. You may find hairs at the sett or caught in hedges or wire and see their well trodden paths and dome shaped holes under fences. Flies hovering around a hole often indicate that someone is at home.
Badgers dig flower pot shaped holes as latrines. These are often grouped along a hedge or path and can demarcate the edge of their territory. Bushes often spring up from the seeds of fruit they excrete. They will sometimes dedicate an area of their underground sett as a latrine.
Grass or leaves are dragged down into the sett as bedding. These may be taken out and aired from time to time and are generally discarded annually.
The badger's coat appears darker grey in summer and lighter grey in winter when it is thicker. Rarely it is gingery or white. Hairs from a badger's body are very distinctive and can be found caught on barbed wire. Badger hairs appear white or whitish (brownish in a sandy area). They are about 7-10 cm long, have a short white tip, then about 2cm is black and are pale close to the skin. Badger hairs can be straight or quite curly and are coarse - Fox or rabbit hairs are fine and soft. Badger hairs are oval, you need a microscope to see it but if you roll a hair between your thumb and finger, it does not roll smoothly.
Badger paw prints have a broad kidney-shaped pad and 5 toes in an arc around the pad - dogs, foxes and cats have 4 toed prints. Sometimes the smaller toe does not show, so its print only shows four toes. Badger claws are long and strong.
The front paws of an adult badger range from about 4.5 cm to 6.5 cm across for a large boar. A young badger's paws are smaller. Badger's back paws are usually slightly smaller and narrower than the front ones. Sometimes badgers appear to leave prints with 8-10 toes - the walking badger has placed its back feet almost exactly on top of where it placed its front feet, showing two sets of prints one on top of the other.
Being shy animals, badgers are rarely seen and usually only appear after dark. Badgers have acute hearing and a strong sense of smell but their eyesight is not good. If you want to observe badgers wear dull clothing, then sit or stand quietly still, downwind from a badger sett, with your back to a tree or bush. You will see in 'A Badger's Year' that the time they emerge varies. Generally be in position by sunset but you will quickly learn the habits of your particular sett - be patient.
For more Badger Facts we recommend:
Michael Clark's book 'Badgers' published by Whittet Books.
Timothy Roper’s new successor to Ernest Neal’s book ‘Badger’ published by Collins.*
Michael Wood’s new book ‘The Badger’ published by The Mammal Society.*
Obtain the following from secondhand bookshops or internet sites:
Ernest Neal's book 'The Badger' published by Collins and Penguin
Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman's book 'Badgers' published by Poyser Natural History.
Many of the facts on this website have been gleaned from these books, from the Badger Trust and other Badger Group publications.
* The following are revues of these new publications:
by Professor Timothy J Roper.
Tim Roper is a highly qualified, experienced badger expert of long standing. He is well used to speaking and writing about badgers and is a first class communicator. There is now a wealth of information in circulation about very many aspects of badgers, but not everyone interested in natural history, and in this case badgers in particular, has the time or the inclination to search out the academic papers and trawl through the material to become better informed themselves. That is not a practical option.
The author sets out his purpose in writing the book in his foreword: “to review, as completely as is feasible in a book of this type, the existing scientific literature on badgers........As a scientist I want to explain why things are the way they are......The difficulty, of course, is in conveying the nuts and bolts of hard scientific information and the excitement of ideas in an intelligible manner, without oversimplifying and, even more importantly, without losing the sense of wonder and delight in nature that motivates every enthusiastic naturalist and professional biologist. This is what I have tried to do.” In my opinion he has succeeded.
So, what do you want to know about badgers? Where did they come from, how long ago, what is their basic biology, how many are there, where do they live, what do they eat, how do they organise themselves socially? The answers to all these questions and more are within the 350 pages of main text. If you then want to go further, the author gives you brief references for the statements he makes in the text, and at the back of the book are some 19 pages of more detailed references. That way the flow of the narrative is not disrupted, the layout is not cluttered. Tim Roper, if you like has done all the hard work for us and presented the results of his work in a very readable, friendly style.
In addition to the text there are very many colour photographs, illustrations, charts and maps. All are well chosen and relevant.
Of particular interest to me was the chapter on” Badgers and People”, dealing with the ways the presence of badgers affects peoples’ lives and the adequacy of our response where we think one is necessary. To give just one example, the author highlights an important deficiency in the current licensing system relating to the closure of setts that are inconveniently located, in our terms, for one reason or another. The badgers are likely to have been there first, having selected what is for them the ideal location. If a decision is made to licence the closure of that sett there is insufficient attention given to the issue of what will become of the badgers once the sett has been closed. Sett closure is in effect a death sentence. He says “proper consideration of the fate of the occupants should be an essential part of all licensed operations that involve interference with a main or annexe sett.” I respectfully agree.
One of the areas of Professor Roper’s expertise is that of urban badgers, and he describes from his first hand experience the issues that can arise from the presence of badgers in built up areas, and, importantly, how those issues can be resolved. A topic close to the heart of the officers of ESBPS and a number of our members. Surprisingly, urban badgers seem to be a relatively recent phenomenon, as recently as the 1960’s in some places, but they are now especially common in Southern England. One explanation must surely be that urban expansion has converted what were once rural setts into urban setts, but the badgers continue to hang on in there.
An important and topical chapter is entitled “Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis”. Tim Roper devotes 36 pages to the subject, and takes the reader through all the key elements, from a brief history of the disease, why badgers are implicated, the various reports and strategies tried and debated over the years, including of course the most contentious of all – culling. (The antiseptic word for killing) He was even in time to make reference to the proposal by Elin Jones, Rural Affairs Minister, to kill badgers in Wales, but at the time the book went to press the outcome of that wheeze was not known. Since the publication of the book of course we all know about the bloody nose Badger Trust were able to inflict on the minister through their triumph in the Court of Appeal.
Just one more example of the author’s style if I may. When discussing badger setts he says “Naturalists have always been fascinated by badger setts and it is easy to see why. Ancient setts, hidden away as they usually are in the depths of woodland and occupied by animals that are rarely seen, seem almost to exhale a sense of mystery. One cannot look at the huge moss-covered spoil heaps of such a sett or peer into its entrance tunnels without wondering how it came to exist, how long it has been there and what lies beneath the surface.” He concludes that even with all the knowledge we now have we still, for example, do not have any understanding at all of the cognitive skills badgers must have to be able to build such elaborate interconnecting structures through what he calls an opaque medium. He concludes “When it comes to biology, truth is almost always stranger than fiction, and so it is with badger setts. There is still plenty for the naturalist to wonder at and for the scientist to investigate.”
This book is packed with comprehensive, first rate information, but from my point of view it is good to know that the badger still has more mysteries waiting to be unravelled. That is what helps to make them such amazing creatures.
by Ian Tillbury.
Published by Collins
Hardback £50 ISBN 978-0-00-732041-7
Paperback £30 ISBN 978-0-00-733977-8
Ed: This book is a worthy successor to Ernest Neal’s New Naturalist Monograph series book ‘The Badger’ published by Collins in 1948. In 1958 my Pelican copy cost 3/6, 17½p in new money.
by Michael Woods
Michael Woods completed this second edition of his book ‘The Badger’ shortly before his untimely death. The 32 pages have been completely rewritten and contain a wealth of information about the Eurasian Badger. The many photographs and illustrations augment the description of many aspects of the badger’s life. This book is an excellent introduction for anyone who wants to learn about badgers.
The Mammal Society at only £3.50 paperback plus £2.95 carriage.
Phone 01278 641747 or order online www.mammal.org.uk
Ed: This is a superb book for the beginner and great value for money.