For enquiries, please contact ESBPS by email: esbps.badgers@gmail.com

Releasing Badgers

ESBPS have become specialists in the art of releasing young badgers to the wild, mainly due to the expertise and supreme effort put in by our Senior Wildlife Officer Warwick Reynolds. When we release rehabilitated adult badgers to the wild, it is simply a case of returning them as close as is safe to where they were found but with young badgers it is a very different story.

Simon Cowell's Wildlife Aid Hospital near Leatherhead has excellent care facilities for a variety of wildlife, including badgers, and we have taken many badgers there. Young badgers are brought to the centre every Spring for rehabilitation. Some cubs have strayed from their setts and all efforts to return them have failed, others are orphans - their mothers killed in road accidents. Later in the year, when these badgers are more mature, they cannot return to their original setts. Someone has to find a suitable site, build an artificial sett and release the badgers as a social group in a careful and controlled way. We cannot just let inexperienced badgers go. Locally established badgers are highly territorial and would attack randomly released badgers, that are learning to fend for themselves. Some of our releases feature in Simon Cowell’s television series Animal Planet on the Discovery channel.

How 4 young badgers became part of the ESBPS Release Programme

Ed: We must thank the NEEBG and the WSBG for the following stories which illustrate the type of problems encountered by those dedicated badger group members involved with rescue work.

FROM Renee Hockley-Byam, of the North-East Essex Badger Group. (adapted from Badger News)
A six-week-old badger cub's mother died in a road accident near Finchingfield and members of North East Essex Badger Group rescued the cub from outside the sett entrance. A member of the public had alerted the group via their hotline about the tiny badger that had waited in vain until hunger forced her out crying for food. At that age a cub would normally stay underground. Sally and Den collected the little cub and took her for a health check to The Veterinary Practice in Braintree, where vet Robin Creighton treated her for dehydration but confirmed that otherwise she was fit. Fellow Group member Judy stepped in to bottle-feed every four hours. Then the search started for a Wildlife Hospital with other orphan cubs that she could be raised with. Secret World suggested Wildlife Aid in Leatherhead Surrey, who were on the lookout for a companion for a male cub they had just taken in. Next day the little badger, sleeping soundly, made the trip with Sally, Judy and Renee. There she met Frostie (all Wildlife Aid orphans were being named after breakfast cereals that year) and became known as Coco (for Coco Pops).

It was amazing to see the excitement when the two little orphans met, snuggling up to each other, rolling about play-fighting and making the whickering noise badgers greet each other with. Next day Wildlife Aid reported: "Both badgers are interacting beautifully, playing and mock-fighting and Coco's excellent appetite has started Frostie eating more enthusiastically - he was a bit shy of being bottle-fed to start with. They are now consuming a healthy meal three times a day consisting of a bowl of chicken and sausage mashed with Esbilac, a bowl of baby rice pudding and egg custard, mixed with rusks and custard creams and a bowl of milk. These are hungry badgers!" The whole event was filmed for use in a future 'Wildlife SOS' TV programme.

The next three cubs were rescued by Peter Eggleton of the West Surrey Badger Group:
One morning in early May I was called out to a lone badger cub found in a distressed state. On arrival I could hear the cub whickering from a distance of about 100 yards. He was in the middle of a heather bush and calling for his Mum. I pulled him out of the shrubbery, gave him a quick check-over for any obvious injuries and then placed him in my carry cage. There was a sett about 60-70 yards away, where there were six holes in an old quarry. It can be difficult to decide the best course of action. The cub was small, probably not weaned and had possibly been out all night. Was the sow still alive? Had the cub just gone walkabout outside parental control? Should I tip the cub back down a hole? Which hole? The sett entrances were up the side of the quarry and difficult to get to (probably for the cub as well as for me). I clambered up to a few of them with the cub in the cage but he remained motionless, giving no indications of recognition, so this made me reluctant to let him go. I then took him to Wildlife Aid for a medical check, followed by some cage rest for the remainder of the day at my house. That evening I returned and placed the caged cub very close to the sett, retired to a safe distance and watched. After nearly three hours I had neither seen nor heard any adults. The cub remained completely silent throughout and neither did he become at all agitated. I took him back to my house for a feed of Esbilac (top baby badger food), fed into the side of his mouth with a syringe. Next morning I carried him back to Wildlife Aid where he was given his name Weetabix. He joined three orphans - Frostie, Coco and Shreddie.

Dave Williams (our Field Officer) knew that I had made an attempt to re-unite a cub with its mother but didn't know I had failed. So when he had a call the next morning about a cub found in the same place he assumed it was Weetabix out of the sett again. When he phoned me and said "Your cub is back out again", I thought he was winding me up. Back I went to find another cub 60 yards from the sett in the other direction. The sow appeared to be missing, so I decided to take this little female to join her brother in the orphan group. She was named - Sugar Puff.

At the beginning of June I was called to a stables where a "small badger" had been seen. The cub was in the middle of flat fields with irrigation ditches running round them. He was only big enough to be about 8 weeks old, possibly not even weaned. By the beginning of June I expect cubs to be at least 13 or 14 weeks old and at this age we should be thinking in terms of returning cubs to their setts and supporting them with supplemental feeding. Where had he come from? I placed him in the carry cage and left that in the car. I then spent a couple of hours looking for a sett, but without success. Apart from one dung pit (not recently used) I found no badger signs at all. I knew of setts over a quarter of a mile away, but decided it was too far away to try to reunite him with his mother.  Given his apparent age, I thought it best to take him to join the Wildlife Aid orphan group, where he was given the name - Alpen. By then the group was up to twelve cubs and they were running out of breakfast cereals!

How we release young badgers

Each release brings its own problems but the following gives you some idea of the considerable amount of work involved.. The photographs are taken from a number of different releases.


First we must introduce you to our Senior Field Officer Warwick Reynolds. This man is a font of badger knowledge and works tirelessly on their behalf. He negotiates with landowners, surveys the prospective sites, designs the sett, oversees the construction of the artificial sett, the release of the badgers and monitors their progress.
His motto is ‘Think before you dig!

 



There are a number of criteria that a site must meet before it can be considered for an artificial sett. It needs the right type of soil, vegetation cover, drainage etc. There have to be sufficient foraging areas for food and water. Other considerations are the location of busy roads and other badger social groups. We have to carry out a number of surveys to be satisfied that it will be suitable for the construction of an artificial sett and that it will provide a suitable environment for the badgers.

There is a considerable amount of work involved in building an artificial sett:

A digger excavates the 1 metre deep sett. 

       
  

300mm plastic drainpipes form the tunnels,  sheets of plywood form sleepng chambers.
Gaps allow the badgers to dig out.

 

Vertical pipes give access for video cameras.  Plastic sheet provides waterproofing                     

The sett is then covered over with the excavated soil and the entrance holes landscaped

Chain-link is buried and wired to the fence panels to stop the badgers digging out.

A 12 metre square pen is made from hired  2 metre high metal fencing panels with a gate.

Low voltage electric wire is strung along the  top to prevent the badgers climbing out                  

CCTV cameras are set up to monitor badger activity both before and after the release

Selecting and transporting the badgers from Wildlife Aid in Leatherhead, Surrey begins: The cubs have micro-chips implanted, so their identity and sex can be determined using a scanner. This enables a balance of the sexes to be selected. They are also tested to ensure they are free of TB.

The cubs have been together for some months and their natural reaction to danger is to form a solid ball.

Simon uses a scanner when selecting  the badgers for each release but extracting  them is hard and dangerous work.

A trail of food entices a badger into  a carrying box – we hope!

The van arrives at the site, loaded with boxes of badgers and supplementary food

Carrying the boxes of badgers to  the sett is a team effort,     

Although it is much easier with a fork-lift  when the ground is rough and wet.

Tunnel entrances have been covered to deter squatters. Warwick uncovers one.

Ray is interviewed for  Simon Cowell’s   TV programme ‘Animal Planet’.

The young badgers are introduced to their new home.
Some are no trouble, others insist in reversing out while one had already tried to escape.

In addition to food we provide, bedding and water.

Our video monitoring reveals unseen behaviour:

Badgers often start to dig out immediately – one was so enthusiastic it almost buried another badger before it had the sense to move. They seem to enjoy bathing.  At night, badgers from other setts are seen to sniff along the fence. At one artificial sett, a small badger was seen to squeeze under the wire to get into the pen to get at the food and then squeezed out – whether it was a stranger or had got out in the first place is not known. It was amusing to see larger badgers in the pen trying to get out without success.

The badgers are kept in this artificial sett and fed for 3 to 4 weeks while they acclimatise to their new home. The fence is then left open for the badgers to come and go as they please. We continue to supplement their diet for a further few weeks but the number of badgers returning to feed gradually diminishes. Recent research involving post release radio tracked badgers has shown that badgers tend to integrate with the neighbouring badgers rather than stay as a viable social group. Our own evidence supports this.

2012 ESBPS Badger Releases

Another 13 orphaned young badgers that might otherwise have died have been looked after by Wildlife Aid near Leatherhead until released by us in 2 family groups.

Badgers held in release pens before returning to the wild tend to give the carefully designed artificial setts I build them a thorough makeover as soon as they move in. One of the chambers at the Fetcham sett was filled with earth up to the ceiling by the young and inexperienced badgers - you would think they were hardwired to avoid such excavating disasters... They have now left the artificial sett and possibly moved 200 yards away to live with the wild badgers.

The Bookham site was one of the driest release setts we have ever had: the small grove of conifers sucked all the water out of the ground, so it is no surprise that the badgers or at least some of the group have stayed in the artificial sett. A dry sett must be a major factor in whether they stay or go. Obviously, we look for dry sites but, unfortunately, some become wet.

Perhaps we should experiment with roofs on the 2013 release sites. Very soon now we expect this year's orphans to start arriving - will it be the usual 14 or 15 new recruits?

 

THE START OF THE BOOKHAM RELEASE PEN. ALL THE LABOUR & MACHINES SUPPLIED BY THE LANDOWNWER GRAHAM

 

The ESBPS has Released well in excess of 100 orphaned Badgers in 10 Years

In 2005 the ESBPS built an artificial sett in a secure pen in Farleigh, Surrey and released 5 badgers from Wildlife Aid.

Following this success we returned 12 badgers to two sites in 2006 - Sidlow, Surrey and Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. In Peterborough they competed with Red Kites for worms and one made birdwatchers uneasy when it climbed into their bird hide – no doubt on the scrounge for leftover sandwiches.

In 2007 we released 13 badgers to two sites - Dartford, Kent and Godstone, Surrey. Both groups seemed reluctant to leave their setts Both sites were much drier than previous ones but eventually all the badgers moved out.

In 2008 8 badgers were released to two sites - Chelsham and Sidlow in Surrey.

In 2009 Wildlife Aid had 11 badgers for release. West Surrey Badger Group released 6 and we prepared a new site and released 5 badgers near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.

In 2010 14 badgers were released to 2 sites – 7 each to Northamptonshire and Godstone, Surrey again.

In 2011 20 badgers were released to 4 sites – 7 each to Reigate and Ranmore, and 6 released near Guildford in collaboration with West surrey Badger Group.

In 2012 13 badgers were released to 2 sites – 6 to Fetcham and 7 to Bookham.

It is interesting to note that all the badgers have eventually left their artificial setts and are probably integrated into neighbouring badger groups. These are badgers that would otherwise have died prematurely, been held in captivity or even euthanased because there was nowhere to keep them.

We only know of one released badger that has died. This was a healthy animal, identified by its microchip, that was killed in a road accident after 6 months in the wild – it was still in the vicinity of its release site.

Future ESBPS Badger Releases

After three years we can recycle an existing site, although this depends on landowners being willing to allow a new release on their land. Despite this we are always on the lookout for good quality release sites and would appreciate receiving any information leading to a new one. Any small wood or estate where permission to release badgers is likely to be granted will be worth investigating.  Perhaps in addition the single most important consideration in selecting a site is the absence of busy roads near to the area.
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