About badgers

Meles meles

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  • Genus: There are three living species in the Meles genus of badgers – the Japanese badger (Meles anakuma), Asian badger (Meles leucurus), and Eurasian badger (Meles meles). 
  • Distribution: Meles meles is a badger species in the family Mustelidae native to almost all of Europe and some parts of Western Asia.
  • Type: Mammal
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Life span in the wild: Usually about 2 years, though can be up to 14 years
  • Size: Adults are usually 70-100cm long
  • Weight: Adults usually weigh between 6 and 14kg

  • Badgers can be born as early as late December, although peak period is the beginning of February. Cubs can be born as late as April. Litters range from one to five cubs, but two or three cubs are most common. Cubs stay below ground and emerge from their sett around eight to ten weeks old. In Supplementary cull areas, the killing can start on 1st June and go on until the end of January. So, NE’s brief ‘closed’ shooting season does not even respect the breeding season. Not only will it kill very young cubs barely out of the sett, but pregnant sows and lactating sows – the latter leading to the starvation of dependent cubs.
  • Habitat: Woodland and earthworm rich pastures
  • Range: Most European countries
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  • There are eight different species of badger.
  • The word badger is said to derive from the French ‘bêcheur’ meaning ‘digger’.
  • Badgers have been present in the British Isles since at least 300,000-400,000 years ago.
  • A male badger is called a boar, a female is a sow and the young are called cubs.
  • Badgers live in complex underground burrow system called setts that they dig themselves. Some can be centuries old, as can the regular paths badgers use above ground.
  • A family group (clan) usually consists of about six badgers living in each sett. Setts have a number of rooms or ‘chambers’ some for sleeping in others for having young in. Several tunnels lead to the outside world. The largest sett in Britain was found to extend over 15 x 35m.
  • One study found a well-established sett in the Cotswolds with twelve entrances had tunnels totalling 310 metres. It was estimated that the badgers had excavated 25 tonnes of soil throughout the years to create this complex. (Ref. Badgerlands website).
  • Main setts are the largest and most important; each group usually has only one main sett which is normally in continuous use and is the breeding sett. Characteristic features are:

· several holes (average over Britain is twelve but exceptionally it can
be as few as one) with large spoil and bedding heaps at the entrance;
· signs of usage throughout the year;
· well worn paths to and from the sett and between entrances.

Annexe setts are often found close to main setts, usually under 150
metres away, have several holes (average eight) and are connected
to the main sett by well worn paths. They may not be in continuous use.
Subsidiary setts are similar to annexe setts, but are usually smaller
(average of four holes), do not have obvious connecting paths and
are not permanently in use. They are at least 50 metres from the
main sett.
Outlying setts can be found well away from main setts and with no
path to other setts. They are used sporadically by badgers but may
be used by foxes or rabbits at other times. The average number of
holes is two

Badgers are incredibly clean and will not defecate in their sett. They have special latrines (communal toilets) comprising of shallow pits placed away from the setts on the edge of their territory. They will not bring food into the sett either.

  • Badgers regularly clean out their sleeping chambers and drag old bedding (hay, grass, bracken etc) outside by carrying it under their chin to prevent a build up of fleas and lice in the sleeping areas.

And the badger in its bedding
Like a loaf in the oven

(The Warm and the Cold by Ted Hughes)

Bedding down.

  • Unlike dogs and foxes, badgers have five toes and very powerful, long claws, particularly on the front feet.
  • Badgers have a keen sense of smell and can dig down for rabbit nests and grubs under the surface.
  • Badgers will eat several hundred earthworms every night, but also love insects, bluebell bulbs and elderberries. You can often find these bushes growing near to the setts.
  • Badgers are protected in the UK by the Protection of badgers Act 1992 and schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
  • It is classified as a species of conservation concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
  • They are listed under Appendix III of the Bern convention. Currently, animal charities are presenting evidence that the cull violates the Bern Convention.
  • Although they are protected in the UK, badgers are being killed in huge numbers in a totally misguided attempt to control TB in dairy cattle.
  • Many badgers are victims of indiscriminate snares. Shamefully, the UK is one of only 5 European countries that still permits the use of snares.

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Badgers having their nightly feed in a BTG member’s garden.