I have only ever seen a live badger in the wild once – and that was just a fleeting glance…. Actually, the badger (Meles meles) is one of the UK’s most widespread wild animals and just as common as the fox – just far more elusive….
When I did finally get to see a badger close-up for the first time, I was amazed at the power and strength of the creature…. It was during a visit to the British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield, Surrey, when I was delighted that we had the opportunity to witness one of the resident badgers being fed…. Boy, was that chappie eager for his food….a bit like someone else we know….
Lewes, our ‘a little bit dim’, food obsessed cat has recently started to refuse to come in at night. Up until this point, this hasn’t worried me too much, as he doesn’t go far (unlike his sister) – he prefers to dither around in the garden…. The other night, during the wee hours, the whole household was awoken by the most almighty din outside….a blood curdling screaming…. Assuming Lewes had got himself into a spot of bother with another cat, John shot outside – only to be confronted with Lewes, involved in a punch-up with a young badger…. The noise was horrendous…. Thankfully, at John’s appearance, the fight instantly broke up and the badger scurried off; neither animal appeared to have sustained any damage – Lewes can thank his lucky stars it was a young badger; only a cat with suicidal tendencies will contemplate taking on an adult badger…. Generally, badgers are peaceful animals, they do not go about picking fights with cats; I can only assume the pair came across each other accidentally…. The noise the badger was emitting tells this tale…. When threatened, a badger will give out deep growls, it will bark when surprised – but if it is truly frightened, it will scream in a piercing manner…. I don’t blame this little fella for being terrified – Lewes can be a very scary cat sometimes….(although it’s a good job it wasn’t Lola)….
It’s not the first time a badger has made itself known here…. A few months ago John arrived home particularly late from work to find a badger sniffing around the back door….
Badgers are one of our most beloved animals; children’s tales often involve them – Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter for example….even Rupert the Bear…. Badgers are native to all Europe and parts of West Asia – it is our largest land predator here in the UK. Part of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, weasels and stoats, the badger has a status of ‘least concern’ in the conservation stakes; there are some 250,000 adults in this country….
That said, they are protected by law…. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 states it is an offence to interfere with a sett or take possession of a live badger (other than to assist an injured or sick animal)…. Conviction for badger baiting can carry a 6 month jail sentence, a fine of up to £5,000 and a ban from keeping dogs…. Once a popular blood sport, badger baiting is a completely barbaric act; badgers are caught alive, put into boxes and dogs set upon them – totally senseless….just like all blood sports….not wishing to be controversial – but everyone’s entitled to an opinion…. Even back as far as the early 1800s badger baiting was recognised as being cruel – The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835….
On looking into the private life of a badger, it is surprising at how social this animal is – they value family, just as we do…. Badgers are nocturnal, explaining why we see so little of them. They live in underground burrows, called setts, which they inherit from their parents; each generation adds to and expands it…. Some well established setts can be centuries old….
Badgers live together in groups; the males are called ‘boars’ and the females ‘sows’…. On average there are roughly 6 adults in a family, although as many as 23 have been recorded. Usually a pair will mate for life; sexual maturity in boars is usually between 12-15 months but it can be up to 2 years – sows normally begin to ovulate in their second year. Mating can happen at any time of the year but the peak is February to May….the babies are born in the following spring, with a litter size of up to 5….
When the cubs arrive they are pink with silvery coloured fur but darker hairs begin to appear within a few days. They weigh between 2.5-4.5oz and their eyes remain closed until they are around 4-5 weeks old. It is also about this time they get their milk teeth, they will have their adult teeth by 4 months and begin to wean at 12 weeks, although they may still suckle until they are 5 months old. They emerge from the burrow after 8 weeks – less than 50% survive through to adulthood…. Only mature sows breed, immature females will help with child-rearing responsibilities….cubs tend to remain with the family group after reaching adulthood….
There is definitely a hierarchy amongst the families sharing a sett; larger boars will show dominance over smaller ones…. Generally, badgers show an enormous tolerance of others, both within the immediate group and outside it…. It is mainly the males that show territorial aggression; during the mating season, males may try their luck in a neighbouring territory…. The size of a territory can range from 30 hectares – (where there is plenty of food available) – to 150 hectares in sparser conditions. When fighting, badgers will attempt to bite the neck and rear end of their opponent whilst chasing them…. Sometimes, wounds can prove to be fatal….
A larger territory may have several setts – the burrows are divided into areas for sleeping, nesting etc.
They even have special latrine areas where the badgers do their ‘business’…. Badgers are extremely clean animals and are very fussy about hygiene…. Soiled bedding is regularly removed and replaced with fresh grass, bracken and leaves…. If a badger dies within the sett, sometimes the chamber is sealed-off, like a tomb; other times, the rest of the family will drag the body out and bury it…. Occasionally, the burrow is shared with other animals, such as foxes and rabbits; although rabbits will choose areas that are furthest away and least accessible from the main living quarters, as young rabbits are in fact prey to badgers….
Being omnivores, badgers have a varied diet; mainly it consists or earthworms, large insects, slugs and snails, roots, cereals and fruits, such as blackberries. They will hunt small mammals; mice, shrews, moles, baby rabbits, squirrels, hedgehogs. They are able to destroy a wasps nest and eat the contents; their thick skins and hair protecting them from the stings…. Very occasionally, although usually only because food is scarce, they will take domestic chickens – but this is rare….
There have been accounts of badgers being tamed…. They can be affectionate and it is possible to train them to come when called; apparently they can make a loving and loyal pet. However, they don’t generally tolerate living with cats and dogs and will chase them : (did you hear that, Lewes? Guess we wont be inviting your new ‘friend’ to move in here, then)….
In the Middle Ages badger meat was held in high esteem – but back then people ate just about anything…. Nowadays, badger hair is used to make shaving brushes; occasionally, wild hair is used but mostly it comes from animals farmed in China especially for the purpose. The Scottish sporran is also traditionally made from badger fur….
Badgers can live up to 14 or 15 years in the wild, although 3 years is the average lifespan. They have no natural predators here in the UK; the main danger posed to them is us, mankind…. 50,000 badgers a year are killed on our roads….
Then there is the controversial subject of badger culling….
TB was first observed in badgers living in Switzerland in 1951. It was discovered in British badgers in 1971 when linked to an outbreak of bovine TB in cows…. It is debatable as to whether culling will eliminate TB in cattle; many feel there is not enough scientific evidence available to warrant a cull. Vaccination against bovine TB is thought to be the way forward….
I, for one, am chuffed to know we have badgers living close by – I just hope ‘Badger Basher Lewes’ hasn’t scared them off for good…. He is now officially on a curfew in the evenings, he is locked in long before it gets dark….
I am surprised badgers come into the garden, as there is no obvious through route – badgers are known to follow well used paths…. I can only imagine the food I feed to the swans is the attraction….
Being nocturnal, it is virtually unheard of to see badgers during day-light hours – but next time you are out and about in your local vicinity….look out for tell-tale signs : 5 toed foot prints, claw marks on trees, remains of discarded bedding, piles of fresh earth, dung pits, wiry hair caught on fences…. You never know, there might be a badger family sound asleep, right beneath your feet…..