- A guide to understanding,deterring and keeping badgers out
- How to identify animal holes
- Learn how to identify animal habitats with our guide to the common animal holes and burrows found in the British wintertime.
- Advice on badgers
- Badger classification
- Badger names
- Appearance and general Characteristics
- Social organisation
- Activity Patterns
- Badger setts
- Food & feeding behaviour
- Life cycle
- How to recognise a badger sett and badger activity
- To dig or not to dig?
- Anyone home?
- Sleeping under the stars
- Rip Van Reynard?
- No place like bed
- Problems with badgers?
- What are badgers doing and Why are they doing it?
- Territorial Marking
- Badgers Feeding
- Food Crops
- Flower Bulbs
- Chemical Warfare
- Electronic Gadgets
- Badgers Feeding from Your Bird Tables and Bins
- Change things around
- Making things tricky for badgers
- Protection and Licensing
- BADGER BIOLOGY ^
- BADGER PROBLEMS AND DAMAGE
- HOW TO CONTROL A DAMAGING BADGER
- BEST BADGER SOUND REPELLER
- BEST BADGER WATER SPRAYER REPELLER
- HOW TO TRAP A BADGER
- BEST BADGER TRAP LURE
- LEGHOLD BADGER TRAPS
- CONTACT US
- Badgers and the law
- Protecting badgers
- To Kill a Badger
A guide to understanding,deterring and keeping badgers out
Badgers and their homes (setts) are protected by law, but lawful actions can be taken to minimise problems, without harm to badgers.
Keeping your lawn healthy by regular aeration, not feeding chemical fast food which only encourages shallow rooting and using Eco-friendly non-poisonous ways to reduce insect damage to the lawn has a twofold effect, fewer insects like leather jackets and the crane-fly larvae for the badgers to sniff out and dig up and a stronger lawn turf structure making it harder for garden pests to survive and for the badgers to get to.
Less frequent watering has a double benefit, to much watering encourages the grass roots to stay shallow instead of growing deeper to seek out moisture and in hot weather Badgers are attracted to wet lawns because the worms are easier to get to.
(Tell green-lawn man that is why his permanently wet lawn is covered in badger holes and scrapes and the dry, (may be a little browner) lawn, next door is not)
Minimise access to food waste (it is also Badgers food). Keep lids tight on food recycling bins as badgers can easily overturn bins, so the lid needs to stay tightly shut even if the bin gets toppled over. Don’t leave part empty dog or cat food dishes out at night. Badgers are attracted to gardens with bird feeders as peanuts are a real delicacy, larger badgers can reach up to bird nuts and fat balls, if you feed birds try clearing up the nuts on the ground at night.
Protecting Raised Beds from badger digging
If badgers are digging up bulbs or getting into raised beds a thick wire grid cut to size and fitted into the raised bed just beneath the soil surface will stop badgers digging. Plants will grow through the grid, but the badgers cannot dig through it and it can be removed for weeding and composting, etc.
Protecting lawns from badgers.
If you are laying a new lawn and have had or suspect problems with badgers, fit tennis-court-type wire netting all over a well-prepared surface and lay the grass turf over it, or if you are using seed, lay the netting 2 to 3 inches below the surface and sow the grass seed in the normal way.
The grass grows through the mesh and the netting stops badgers digging. This method could be used for existing lawns, but lifting and relaying the turf is time-consuming and you might be better off starting from scratch.
The deterrents above eliminate one of the main reasons (food) for badgers to dig up your garden, they may still visit on their way through to better feeding grounds, use your garden as a toilet and mark there territory, but you will have to live with that or read on to block them completely with fencing.
Filling in and destroying the sett
Badgers are a protected species, and you can’t do anything to cause them actual harm. If badgers are causing a serious problem like subsidence, structural damage or serious economic harm it might be possible to get a licence from the authorities to move them to another area. However, wrecking your garden will probably not be counted as a serious problem.
Illegally destroying a sett or trapping badgers is cruel and will lead to a heavy fine or prison and is a complete waste of time anyway as the badger family will be quickly replaced and the territory taken over by another badger family.
If you have a serious problem and willing to spend the money, speak to your local Badger Group or a Badger Consultant; with your chequebook at the ready.
There are no chemical repellents that can be legally used as a badger deterrent, using chemicals will put you at risk of committing an offence under the pesticide regulations or under wildlife protection laws.
Luckily, badgers are rare visitors to urban gardens – but they can be a problem in larger, rural gardens. These large mammals can cause damage to gardens by trampling plants and digging up large areas in their search for food. Badgers are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
Badgers are large, heavy mammals that normally only come out at night. As a result, we usually only see the results of their visits. They have a very varied diet and will hungrily devour just about whatever is available – fruit, vegetables, bulbs, earthworms, grubs, slugs and snails. They are particularly fond of sweetcorn. When dry, cold or frosty conditions make their natural food hard to come by, they damage flower beds and lawns, in a more desperate search for food.
Being large animals, badgers will damage low-growing plants by trampling them. They dig around in the soil looking for insects, often digging up plants in the process.
They will dig holes in the lawn, damaging large areas, looking for grubs, such as leatherjackets and chafer grubs and worms.
Treatment and control
Badgers can usually be discouraged or prevented from entering gardens with solid, effective fencing and locked gates. A badger-proof wire mesh, buried to a depth of 1m (3ft) may prevent them digging under fences. The bottom 30cm (12in) should be bent outwards to stop the badgers burrowing underneath.
Many badger groups suggest using a battery-operated electric fence as the best method of preventing them getting in.
Although not always 100% effective, ultrasonic devices may deter them. A radio left on all night, at levels that don’t offend neighbours, may also be successful.
Chemical animal repellents are unlikely to be effective. Although marking boundaries with male urine does seem to work!
How to identify animal holes
Winter is the best time to look for mammal holes made by burrowing animals. Now that the vegetation has died back, holes and burrows are easier to spot.
In addition, species such as badgers and foxes aren’t breeding, and so you’re unlikely to disturb them. If you’re really lucky, fresh snow or wet mud will also preserve tracks leading to the holes, and these will help you identify their occupants.
Learn how to identify animal habitats with our guide to the common animal holes and burrows found in the British wintertime.
It is by no means unusual, though, to find badgers, foxes, rabbits and rats all sharing the same badger sett, often emerging from the same holes.
Small predators, such as stoats and weasels, often live in holes stolen from their prey, and even pine martens have been recorded living in badger setts. So don’t be surprised if you find some strange bedfellows.
Red fox kits huddled at den entrance. © Daniel J. Cox/Getty
- Bank voles, wood mice and yellow-necked mice can dig extensive burrow systems, often under tree roots.
- Wood mice dig burrows in cereal fields and similar open situations.
- The tunnels are generally only a few centimetres below ground, with entrance holes about 3cm in diameter.
- Mouse holes are often camouflaged or blocked with debris, such as small stones, clods of earth or twigs. Tunnels – particularly those of the bank vole – frequently connect to runways above ground through dense vegetation.
Bank vole emerging from its burrow entrance. © Mike Powles/Getty
- Rats dig holes similar to those of water voles, 6-9cm in diameter. They are usually close to water, but are also found in a variety of other habitats such as hedgerows, rubbish tips and often under cover such as tree roots and logs.
- Unlike water vole holes, rat holes generally have a fan-shaped mass of freshly dug soil outside and the holes are connected by well-trodden runways.
A wild rat sniffing the air outside its burrow at the base of a tree. © Getty
WATER VOLE BURROW
- Water voles generally dig burrows in banks, with a series of holes close to the water’s edge or even under water.
- Occasionally, water vole holes can be 2–3m from the water.
- Water vole holes are roughly circular, 5cm–7cm in diameter, and generally have a closely cropped ‘lawn’ within a 15cm radius of the hole.
Water vole in its hole. © Mark Bridger/Getty
- Badger setts range in size from one to more than 50 holes.
- They are usually found on the edges of woods, but can be found in virtually any habitat, including open moorland.
- Badger holes are 20-30cm in diameter, wider than they are tall and shaped like a ‘D’ on its side.
- A network of broad paths often leads to badger setts. Fresh bedding may be found outside holes, especially in winter, and old bedding can be seen in spoil heaps.
- Coarse black and white hairs can be found in freshly dug soil or roots.
Eurasian badger emerging from its sett. © Laurie Campbell/Getty
How to identify animal droppings
Droppings or scats can tell us a lot about which animals have been visiting our gardens, parks and countryside, including hedgehogs, foxes and badgers.
Read our expert guide to animal droppings
- Foxes use holes most intensively when breeding in spring. At other times of year, they often prefer to lie up above ground, except in the most inclement weather.
- Fox burrows are more properly known as fox earths.
- Generally only a few holes, sometimes with extensive spoil outside. In winter, many holes are dug out in preparation for spring – sometimes the debris includes the remains of foxes that have died underground.
- Fox burrows are generally taller than broad, around 20cm in diameter.
- Fresh food remains are usually only found outside the holes from April to June, when cubs are present.
Advertisement Red fox cub emerging from its burrow. © avs_lt/Getty
- Rabbit warrens are especially common on slopes and banks, where drainage is better.
- Generally an extensive burrow system, but single-entrance burrows are used for breeding and lying up.
- There may be extensive spoil outside the holes of rabbit warrens, which are 10-15cm in diameter and usually slope inwards at a shallow angle.
- Rabbit droppings and tufts of fur are frequently found outside burrows. There will be extensive signs of grazing close to burrows, especially on edges of arable fields.
Rabbit warren with rabbits inside and outside. © Steve Shott/Getty
Advice on badgers
The Eurasian Badger (Meles meles), known as the common badger, is a member of the family that includes weasels, stoats, and otters. A survey completed during 2007/2008 estimated that there were around 33,500 badgers within Northern Ireland, with the largest densities occurring in parts of Counties Down and Armagh.
The Eurasian badger is the commonest badger found throughout Europe. A male badger is called a boar and the female is called a sow. Young badgers are cubs.
Appearance and general Characteristics
One feature that immediately distinguishes the badger is its colouration, particularly on its face. The black and white striped head of the badger is well known, and may be a form of warning colouration. The fur in the badger’s upper parts appears grey, while the fur on the throat, legs and under parts is black. The forelegs are well developed and the forepaws bear long strong claws. These are adaptations for a digging way of life. Badgers have a well-developed sense of smell and sound, but have a limited sense of sight. Adult badgers are around 90cm long and can weigh anything between 6-17kg with an average of 10-11kg.
The badger often lives in a group called a cete or clan. Each clan shares a territory containing feeding grounds and one or more setts. The size of the clan and the size of the territory are both related to the availability of food supplies.
Badgers are largely nocturnal. In winter, badgers do not hibernate but reduce their activity during periods of cold weather. Badger activity increases at the start of the main mating season, resulting in increased road casualties in late winter/early spring. During the summer months, activity is mainly concentrated around the setts and the feeding areas and travelling between locations. During the autumn, badger feeding activity increases to accumulate body fat reserves for the winter. A secondary peak in the number of road casualties occurs at this time.
Badgers live in a system of interconnected tunnels and chambers called a sett. Every badger clan has one main sett, which is used for breeding and is usually relatively large. Well-established setts have been excavated by several generations of badgers, with some setts known to be occupied for centuries. The size of the sett is influenced more by the soil type than by the number of animals living within it.
In addition to the main sett, most clans have one or more secondary setts. Secondary setts are less important to the badgers than main setts, but they are useful nonetheless especially if the main sett is disturbed or there is a breakdown in the social structure within the clan. Disused setts may be taken over by rabbits or by foxes, and both these species have been known to co-habit with badgers in occupied setts.
In the chambers inside the sett, the badgers make nests in which they sleep. Periodically, fresh bedding material (typically dry grass, straw, bracken or dead leaves) is collected and dragged into the sett. Setts can be located in wooded areas or scrub, although more recently there is a tendency for setts being excavated in hedgerows in areas of improved pasture.
Food & feeding behaviour
The badger is an omnivore, primarily a forager, eating an extremely wide range of animal and plant foods. They are opportunistic. Badgers have been known to regularly visit farm buildings and gardens if there is a readily available food source.
The principal food of the badger in most of Western Europe is the earthworm.
Other food sources include:
- other invertebrates – especially beetles and ground living insect larvae
- carrion – dead animals and birds
- small mammals – usually young rabbits or mice
- fruits and nuts – such as blackberries, cherries, elderberries and acorns
- cereals – typically wheat, oats or barley
- roots, bulbs and tubers
February is the peak month of the badger main mating season, but they can mate at any time of the year. Delayed implantation is a feature of the badgers’ reproductive cycle. Eggs fertilized after mating develop into tiny balls of cells called blastocysts. These remain in the uterus until a trigger factor causes implantation allowing development to resume. Regardless of fertilisation date, implantation nearly always occurs in late December or early January. Following 6-7 weeks of normal gestation, birth occurs from late January to early March, with the majority taking place in the first half of February. Litter size can vary between 1 and 5 (normally 2 or 3). Cubs spend approximately the first eight weeks of life underground, emerging in late April or early May.
Although badger cubs are born at a time of year which maximises their chances of survival, on average only one out of every three cubs survives to be one year old. Male and female cubs become sexually mature at around 11-15 months of age and may mate before the end of their first year, in areas where food supplies are plentiful.
Badgers in the wild can live for as long as 15 years. However, most badgers die young and the average life span is just three years.
In the UK and ROI, adult badgers have no natural enemies but young cubs may be taken by foxes.
Badgers are usually wary of humans. In most cases, a badgers’ first reaction to danger is to escape into the nearest sett .If cornered, individual animals may be more aggressive.
How to recognise a badger sett and badger activity
There are features common to nearly all badger setts which help to distinguish them from the burrows dug by foxes and rabbits.
Tunnel or shape of entrance
Most badger tunnels have a distinctive shape, being wider than they are tall, with a flattened base. Tunnels excavated by foxes and rabbits tend to be rounder or oval in shape, and taller than they are broad. The tunnels excavated by badgers are around 30cm in diameter, certainly no smaller than 25cm in diameter. Tunnels excavated by rabbits may be quite large at their entrance, but soon narrow down to a diameter of about 15cm.
This refers to the excavated material found at the sett entrance. In general, this is usually much larger than those created by either foxes or rabbits and is often coarser material containing rocks and stones. Rocks may bear badger claw marks. Badgers drag earth out backwards, pulling it out and away from the entrance hole with their forepaws before kicking it away with their back feet. In the process, they sometimes form a well-defined furrow or groove from the sett entrance into the spoil heap. Clay balls, formed as the badgers try to remove clay with their paw, may also be found. These often incorporate badger hairs. Freshly excavated earth outside a sett entrance is an obvious sign that the sett is in use.
An examination of the spoil heaps will nearly always reveal bits of old bedding material. This is evidence that the holes belong to a badger sett, but it is not evidence of current use of the sett by badgers. The sight of bundles of fresh bedding material outside the sett entrance is one of the clearest signs of current badger activity. When badgers collect bedding, they often bring back several bundles and regularly leave one or more of these bundles outside. The freshness of such vegetation gives some indication to when the material had been collected. This is possibly left to dry and does not usually remain above ground for very long.
the hairs from a badgers back and flanks are very distinctive and cannot be confused with those from any other European mammal. They are basically white (or brown if the sett is in sandy soil and the hairs have become stained) with a black band towards the tip. They are about 7-10cm long; the black band measuring 1-2cm and the white tip also about 1cm or so in length. Badger hairs are quite coarse, and not fine like fox or rabbit hairs. They are also oval in cross section, not round. This means if you take a badger hair and roll it between your thumb and finger it does not roll smoothly. Badger hairs are often found in the barbs of barbed wire fences, close to the sett or anywhere the badger has passed through. Hairs may also be found caught in the brambles, or in the soil in the spoil heap. Loose hairs on the surface of the spoil heap can be an indicator of recent badger activity.
Badger pads and footprints
A worn path used regularly by the badger is referred to as a pad. Badgers are creatures of habit and tend to follow regular pathways between their setts and foraging grounds. Well used pathways are very conspicuous, the constant passage of badger feet having flattened or worn away the vegetation. Such paths are a good indication of badger activity but it may be difficult in assessing how recent that activity may have been.
A badgers footprint is very distinctive it consists of a broad kidney shaped pad, with 5 toes lined up in front, the front feet are larger and the claws longer. Often the fifth toe (the inner toe), which is slightly smaller and set further back, does not show up, and the print may have only four toe marks. The fact that toes are arranged in a line clearly identifies the print as badger: dogs, foxes and cats have four-toed prints, but their toes are arranged in an arc around an oval or three lobed pads. The width of an adult badgers print may range from 4.5-6.5cm. Sometimes badgers leave print with 8-10 toes. This happens when a badger walks it places its hind feet almost exactly on top of where it placed its front feet.
If the ground around the sett entrance is soft, you will almost certainly find fresh badger footprints if the sett is in use. The same being the case along pathways. Of course, the best time to look for badger tracks is when there is snow on the ground when their trail can be followed.
Evidence includes snuffle holes, which are small pits (10-15cm across) in the ground made by the badger’s snout as it searches for worms and beetles. These pits tend to be conical in shape with the material dug out on more than one side. Rabbits will also make such scrapes in search of roots, but these tend to be smaller with material scratched out on one side only. Badgers will also dig up wasp or bees nests, as well as rabbit nursery chambers in order to obtain a source of food.
Latrines and dung
Badger latrines are usually easy to identify. Cats dig pits for their droppings but they cover them up afterwards, while badgers leave their droppings exposed. Foxes in complete contrast to the badger leave their droppings not in pits but on tussocks of grass or other raised or prominent places. Badger droppings tend to look like those of a dog in size and shape but will vary in appearance depending on what the badger has eaten.
Latrines can be found close to a sett or on the outer edges of a territory, where they act as boundary posts. Some latrines consist of just a few dung pits, while others are larger with a dozen or more.
Other signs of badger activity
In summer months, flies buzzing in and out of sett entrances are evidence that the sett is in use. However, this does not mean that the sett is being used by badgers and other evidence is needed for confirmation. On cold winter mornings, steam may be seen rising from sett entrances. This is caused by the condensation of warm air generated by the badgers exhalations and body heat. Setts may have one or more scratching posts near the entrance.
As well as tree trunks, badgers may scratch fence posts or other suitable objects. When scratching, the badger gets up on is hind legs and reaches as high as it can with its front paws and then brings them down scraping against the wood as it does so. Suggested reasons for this behaviour include cleaning mud from claws, muscle toning or as a territorial marker.
“In one instance, in a cemetery in Bristol, an evergreen oak had been extensively pruned and shaped, and all the cut twigs and leaves had accumulated in the crown of the tree to form an impenetrable mass amongst the branches. The vixen had climbed into the tree and dug an extensive burrow system amongst the compacted prunings. Here she gave birth to her cubs for several years running, only moving them out of the tree once they were big enough to play.”
More recently, a family of four foxes made the British press when they made what appeared to be an earth, nine metres (30 ft.) up a tree in a back garden in Ipswich, Suffolk during January 2009. Generally speaking, foxes making earths in trees is rare, although it is not uncommon for them to be found resting on branches during the day and, in his 1968 book Town Fox, Country Fox, Brian Vezey-Fitzgerald wrote:
“Shropshire foxes are said to be particularly prone to lying-up in trees – on one occasion three were dislodged from the same tree…”
Foxes will also climb on to building roofs both to rest and search for prey. In a 2004 paper to Western North American Naturalist, James Sedgwick and John Bartholomew documented just such behaviour; they observed two young foxes 9.5m (31 ft) above ground on the roof of a domestic animal building in Fort Collins, Colorado. Outside of the city, foxes will often take over the disused burrows of other animals (especially rabbit burrows, which they extend to suit their size) or use existing structures such as rock caves, scree piles, wood piles, etc.
To dig or not to dig?
In a survey of fox earths in various habitats around Saarbrücken in western Germany, Darius Weber found that foxes dug 44% of the earths themselves, with the rest either being the work of other animals, or situated in bunkers, caves or craters. In this study, the foxes frequently used rabbit burrows or badger setts; the use of the latter by foxes has been well documented in Britain and Europe. In their 2000 paper to Wildlife Research, CSIRO biologist Robyn Molsher and her colleagues note that foxes frequently use active rabbit warrens as dens for the birth and caring of cubs.
Badgers will sometimes tolerate foxes in their sett, although this seems much less likely if the badgers have cubs. It appears badgers may give over part of the sett to the foxes. – Credit: Marc Baldwin
There is much in the literature about the cleanliness, or more specifically the lack of cleanliness, of fox earth and Brian Vezey-Fitzgerald, in his 1968 Town Fox, Country Fox, points out it is widely reputed that badgers will vacate setts if a fox moves in, because they cannot put up with the smell or mess that the latter make. Curiously, in his book My Life With Foxes, Eric Ashby notes that his foxes kept their breeding earths very clean and that the cub he hand-reared never once soiled her bed. Ashby writes:
“Foxes’ instincts towards their homes are dominated by attention to detail and by an overwhelming concern for cleanliness. Tessa kept ber cubs and their den spotless. As little as two weeks after the birth, we had seen Tessa move three cubs outside the box so that she could scrape at and re-arrange the wood shavings, before taking them back in to join the others.”
Returning to Vezey-Fitzgerald’s point; badgers may move out in some cases, but there are a considerable number of examples where the two species have shared (albeit different parts of) the same sett over successive generations. In their 1996 book, Badgers, Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman note that, although foxes occasionally dig their own dens they are typically “lazy diggers and much prefer to use badger setts if available”. Moreover, Neal and Cheeseman point out that, in the Netherlands, Switzerland Denmark and Germany, “it is the rule for foxes and badgers to live in the same sett” – it has been postulated that this reflects a lack of suitable habitat in these countries. Similarly, in his 2010 book Badgers, Timothy Roper suggests that the increase in foxes observed during a badger culling trial may have been a response to an increase in the number of suitable vacant setts in which the foxes could raise their cubs. That said, Roper does note that:
“Badgers and foxes are more tolerant of one another than is sometimes assumed, and it is not unusual for a large main sett to contain breeding females of both species.”
This relationship seems to work well and the badgers—despite apparently being the dominant residents (they can apparently evict foxes at will)—tolerate foxes for most of the year. The situation can, however, change when cubs are present. Intriguingly, whoever has cubs seems to get movement rights. One example of this comes from a wildlife park in Avon, where expansion of an earth by foxes had caused the amalgamation of the foxes’ earth and a nearby badger sett. In this case, foxes were only dominant when they had cubs. When badgers have cubs underground, any encroachment by a fox typically meets with strong aggression on the part of the sow.
The construction of earths by foxes can affect other species in the vicinity and Polish botanist Artur Obidzinski has spent much of his time looking at how fox earths change the local ground flora. In a 2006 paper to Polish Botanical Studies, Obidzinski and colleague Piotr Kieltyk reported that the presence of fox earths caused local changes in the composition of the herb layer, limiting the development of plants by burying their above-ground parts, damaging root systems and trampling leaves. Uneaten food left lying around by the earth’s inhabitants was found to increase soil fertility and pH (i.e. make it less acidic) and foxes moved in seeds on their fur and in their scat; they also activated dormant seeds while digging. Overall, Obidzinski and Kieltyk found more plant species in the vicinity of the earths than the surrounding, undisturbed, area.
The primary function of earths is the raising of cubs and they are used progressively less as the cubs become independent. Once the cubs are full grown earths seem only to be used in cases of extreme weather or as a means of escape from a predator or hunt. – Credit: Ed Charles
How intensively an earth is used will depend on the season, habitat and the individual fox. In most cases, foxes tend to use earths only while rearing cubs or during particularly bad weather (i.e. heavy snowfall). In his chapter on the Red fox in the 1970 BBC book Private Lives: Studies of birds and other animals, Roger Burrows noted a difference in den use between the sexes, with vixens spending much of the winter in the ‘relative comfort’ of the earth, while dogs seldom, if ever, used earths, preferring instead to lie-up above ground.
Studies on Bristol’s foxes have shown that males very rarely use an earth; normally it is only inhabited by the vixen and cubs, such that the dog’s first contact with his offspring is when they emerge from the den at around four weeks old. The vixen and cubs use the earth for around four months, after which the foxes tend to spend most of their time lying up in nearby vegetation during the day. Indeed, for most of the year, foxes seem to prefer to lie-up in vegetation, rather than using an earth and, in urban Melbourne, Marks and Bloomfield found that almost 80% of resting periods were spent sheltering in exotic weed infestations (blackberry, fennel, thistle, etc.). It seems that, along with harsh weather conditions, the amount of available cover also determines how likely a fox is to use an earth.
Between September 1989 and February 1992, Jean-Steve Meia and Jean-Marc Weber at the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland radio-tracked seven adult female foxes in the Swiss Jura Mountains. Their results, published in the journal Acta Theriologica during 1993, showed that the foxes seldom rested at a den site during the night (only 1% of observed resting periods were in dens), opting instead to lie-up in cover—such that they were hidden—close to where they had been active. During the day, however, three females frequently used dens, while the remaining four seldom used them. One vixen raised cubs during the study and was located in an earth during this time, but spent the majority of her time outside the cubbing season resting above ground.
Sleeping under the stars
Interestingly, Meia and Weber found a positive correlation between the amount of open ground and the time spent resting in an earth, suggesting that foxes may use earths more often in habitats with little or no secure cover. The foxes also used only a few of the dens within their home range and there was no relationship between the number of earths in the territory and the number used by the territory holder.
Interestingly, Meia and Weber also found that weather (with the exception of extreme weather, notably snow) didn’t influence whether the foxes used an earth. In 1989, French biologist Marc Artois suggested that foxes avoided rain because it upsets their insulation (wet fur sticks together and is a very poor insulator) and both Stephen Harris and Huw Lloyd have noted that foxes prefer to lie in earths during bad weather. Meia and Weber, however, often observed foxes resting in totally open areas in heavy rain during the night. I too have seen a fox resting by a hedge, seemingly unconcerned by the rain and have watched foxes hunt during heavy rain and falling snow. Finally, this Swiss study noted that foxes often moved from one surface resting site to another for no apparent reason (i.e. weren’t disturbed) – given that resting and den sites were often situated at the periphery of the home range, the authors suggest that this may be the foxes resting as they patrolled their territory.
A temporary resting hole excavated into a compost heap by a fox in Britain. It’s possible the fox was attracted by the warmth of the decaying vegetation. – Credit: Laura Morchella
Ordinarily, foxes will seek out favoured sites within their territory that provide secure cover (high cereal crops or grass, reed beds, bramble, bracken, etc.) in which to rest, but they will also hollow out temporary resting sites in some unexpected places. I have seen photos of a fox ‘rest’ dug into a compost heap (I presume the decomposing vegetation provided a valuable source of warmth and insect prey), another in a large haystack and also a pair of foxes lying among the ashes of a bonfire during very cold weather. In areas of high disturbance or where foxes are heavily persecuted they will often opt for resting sites that provide a good view of approaching danger and, in urban areas, such places tend to be shed roofs, but boulder scree is popular among hill foxes.
Between January and May 1990, Ray Hewson studied the use of earths by two young vixens living in the hills of north-west Scotland. He found that they showed a preference for resting sites at a high vantage point with a good view of the surrounding area and where the foxes could move in and out of the earth under the cover of boulders. Similarly, in Cumbria, David Macdonald found that most daytime resting sites of foxes were in boulder scree, from where they had a good view of their surroundings; a minority were in peat holes, in which it was difficult for them to spot people sneaking up.
In a recent study of space use by foxes in the southern German district of Starnberg, Christof Janko and colleagues at the Technische Universität München found that they used up to 10 resting sites situated throughout their home range; almost two-thirds (62%) were located in forests, while 21% were in reed beds and 15% were in gardens. The researchers found no significant difference in the resting sites chosen by males and those chosen by females.
For most of the year, foxes prefer to lie-up above ground in thick vegetation or from a suitably high vantage point such as a rock outcrop, shed roof, etc. – Credit: Marc Baldwin
There is some suggestion that foxes show a preference for certain ‘directions of resting’, associated with how deeply they’re sleeping. In a curious paper to Behavioural Processes during 1979, Günter Tembrock described the choice of resting side in a group of 15 captive foxes, finding that:
“… the preferred direction of the resting position (curled up to the right or to the left) is not accidental. For all foxes considered, the preference for the left position is significant.”
In fact, when the group was split up according to sex, it transpires that only the males showed a statistically significant preference for resting side. Moreover, dominant males were significantly more likely to lie on their left-hand side than subordinate animals and this preference seemed to develop at around seven months old. Tembrock suggested that foxes were more alert when lying on their left side of their body (i.e. they could react quicker to an approach) than when on their right side, although why that should be so is unclear.
Rip Van Reynard?
Whether resting on their right or left, there are several stories attesting to just how deeply foxes can sleep. During his studies in Bristol, Carl Soulsbury noticed that the signal from one fox hadn’t moved for eight hours and, the following day, he went to recover what he thought was the fox’s body, only to find a very much alive animal apparently aggrieved at being woken up. I know several photographers that have stumbled across a sleeping fox that hasn’t been woken by several minutes of photo-taking.
While sleeping, it has been suggested that foxes take comparatively few breaths and, in his book Wild Fox, Roger Burrows recounts how, on 29th February 1964 at 4pm, naturalist Trevor Walsh happened upon a fox curled up asleep on the Cotswolds, near Stroud. Mr Walsh watched the fox and counted 12 breaths in five minutes; this is an average of 2.4 breaths per minute (brpm) or one breath every 25 seconds. According to Burrows, this compares to around 10 per minute for a sleeping human or domestic dog (one every 6 seconds), suggesting either that foxes have a more efficient oxygen extraction mechanism, or they can lower their metabolism further than either dogs or humans.
A sleeping fox at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey. – Credit: Marc Baldwin
Walsh’s estimate seems very low and one is driven to wonder whether some breaths were missed, or whether (as with much else in his book) the account was misinterpreted by Burrows. Certainly, the scant literature on the subject would seem to imply this was so. In a paper to the Canadian Journal of Zoology in 1989, Terry Kreeger and colleagues reported 16-20 breaths per minute in their sleeping foxes, along with a heart rate of about about 90 beats per minute (bpm) for females and 82 bpm for males. Recent contact from readers suggests that even 16-20 brpm may be low.
In June 2015 I was contacted by Ingo Rieger, a Swiss behaviourist who offers advice on animal husbandry. Ingo was surprised by the low breathing rate referenced by Burrows and asked one of his friends to count the breaths per minute of their hand-reared pet fox. The result, while the fox was sleeping on a sleeping bag with its owner, was 27-29 brpm, or one breath every two to 2.5 seconds – much higher than Walsh’s count. Similarly, while watching a vixen asleep on their decking in Colorado (USA) a reader counted the breaths per minute against a stop watch over two consecutive one-minute intervals; the first was 22 brpm, the second 23 brpm. I would be interested to hear from any other readers with pet foxes on how often they breath during their sleep.
No place like bed
Although dog foxes rarely use earths, vixens may occasionally share them with other females, either simultaneously or asynchronously (i.e. use the same earth or rest site at different times). David Macdonald, in his 1987 Running with the Fox, described how a vixen regularly used the same earth throughout the winter, occasionally sharing it with one or two other vixens. Burrows considered that vixens lie up underground from November to March, possibly sharing an earth, while Meia and Weber observed that several individuals used the same resting sites, although they don’t say whether they did so at the same time. During his study of hill foxes, Hewson found that the two vixens had their own ‘exclusive’ resting sites as well as those that they shared with each other, although rarely on the same day. It has been suggested that much of the social interaction between members of a fox group occurs at resting sites, so it is presumed that any sharing of earths or rest sites is between family members.
A young North America Red fox resting on tarmac in a car park. – Credit: Mary Lee Agnew
Finally, it is worth making a brief mention of rest site fidelity – that is, how ‘faithful’ foxes are to a given spot. In a 2003 paper to Acta Theriologica, a team of biologists at Bristol University—led by Tabetha Newman—presented their analysis of resting site fidelity among foxes in the north-west of the city, before and after the outbreak of mange that decimated the fox population during the mid-1990s (i.e. comparing high and low population densities).
The researchers looked at radio-tracking data and found two major shifts associated with the dramatic decline in fox numbers: they were less faithful to rest sites, and they chose different areas in which to rest. Before mange arrived a fox would spend 80% of its inactive time at a regular rest site, being found in a single ‘favourite’ site about half the time. Once the population had crashed, the researchers found them at regular rest sites only 15% of the time and, of this time, just under 20% of ‘fixes’ were at a single favoured site.
In the pre-mange years, foxes spent most of their time resting in back gardens (particularly under sheds), with allotments, woodland and grassland coming in joint second. In the post-mange years, however, foxes seldom chose to rest in gardens (rarely being found near a shed), much preferring allotments or woodland – they opted to rest in badger setts or thick patches of bramble. The biologists suggest that when the fox population was high, foxes were forced to rest in the same site frequently and in locations that may not be their first choice because space was at a premium; when numbers dropped, foxes were free to rest where they wanted. Changing rest sites more frequently may also have helped the remaining foxes control parasites, such as the mange mite.
Problems with badgers?
Problems cause by badgers
From time to time badgers do cause various problems for gardeners and landowners. These include:
Damage to lawns, bowling greens and golf courses. This is usually caused by badgers digging small holes or lifting up turf while foraging for cranefly larvae (leatherjackets), cockchafer larvae or other grubs (see photo). It tends to happen more often during prolonged periods of dry or freezing weather, when it is difficult for badgers to find earthworms (their normal staple diet).
Damage to cultivated fruits, sweetcorn, root crops or bulbs. Again, this problem tends to be more pronounced during periods of dry weather when badgers have difficulty finding earthworms, and raid farms and gardens to survive.
Making holes in or under fences. Badgers are creatures of habit and follow regular pathways. If a fence is put up across such a path, badgers may dig a hole underneath it or even break through it.
Digging burrows under buildings, tracks, roads etc. Occasionally badgers will dig setts in places where they are likely to cause serious problems.
Predation on livestock. This is very rare. Over the years we have received only a very small number of reports of badgers taking poultry. These incidents have involved badgers affected by prolonged dry weather, or in one case an injured animal which took refuge in a hen house and was accidentally shut in with the chicken and her young overnight. Like foxes, badgers will feed on carcases of dead lambs. Predation on live lambs by badgers is very uncommon in Britain, and we are not aware of any confirmed reports of this happening locally. Lamb killing, when it occurs, is more likely to be the work of a stray dog than a badger (or a fox for that matter).
Predation on pets. This is exceptionally rare. Of the very small number of cases we are aware of, none have happened locally. It is very unlikely that a badger would attack a cat (most cats would be agile enough to escape anyway). In fact we have read a number of accounts of badgers and cats feeding together amicably.
Information and advice
In situations where people cannot tolerate damage caused by badgers (or wait for the weather to change!), it is almost always possible to resolve the problem without harming the animals. Where badgers are unwelcome there are ways of deterring them or physically excluding them. In some circumstances (where setts are involved for example) a licence may be needed from the Wildlife Management & Licensing unit (previously part of DEFRA but now transferred to Natural England).
Here are some useful sources of information and advice:
Badgers in your garden – a useful booklet (in PDF format) from the Badger Trust. Paper copies of the booklet are available from Brockwatch on request.
Advice on resolving problems caused by badgers – a host of useful information including links to PDF documents aimed at householders, landowners and foresters.
Steve Jackson’s Badger Pages – includes several pages with information on problems caused by badgers, and solutions to those problems. See:
Badger problems – homes and gardens
Badger problems – golf courses and bowling greens
Badger problems – agricultural and horticultural situations
“The world of badgers is in some ways analogous with the human world. Like us, their behaviour is greatly influenced by their need for homes and living space, and being social like we are, they too have their problems of learning how to live together ….. and with us”
The following advice is fairly general – you would probably be better to speak to your local Badger Group for specific advice about your particular situation.
What are badgers doing and Why are they doing it?
The key thing to find out is why badgers are coming into your garden. It is often because:
- They are using it as toilet
- They are marking their territory
- They are feeding
The next thing is to walk round the perimeter of your garden to see where they are getting in and how this can be stopped.
When badgers emerge in the evening, they will often head off to find a toilet to defecate. They will normally dig a series of holes in the ground (a few 10s of metres from their home) and leave their poo in those holes. The poo will normally be dark and muddy – sometimes a bit sloppy and sometimes with fruit stones and insects casings in it. It can sometimes look a bit like sloppy chocolate toothpaste; and may have a musky smell (from 3 to 4 feet away).
The way to stop badgers is to try to keep them out of the garden (by using fencing, for example); and to dig up and remove the offending poo and surrounding soil every time it reappears. Some people spray the new ground with strong smelling natural substances (such as Citronella) to try and mask the residual smell of badger poo, urine and musk.
Suitable fencing is another option, that we will come to that later on.
Badgers live in family groups (clans) are “own” a territory. If badgers from another territory encroach, there is a risk that badgers will fight to defend their land (or their females). The borders of adjoining territories may be “marked” by badgers of each clan – this warns the other badgers not to proceed any further (unless they want a fight).
This marking may consist of things you can not see (urine and badger musk), as well as badger poo, which may be left on badger paths close to the boundary. You may be fortunate to identify one lot of badger poo near a physical boundary (such as a garden wall or fence) with some more poo on the other side. It may well be that the barrier defines the boundary of two badger territories.
The easiest way to deal with this is to ignore it. Do you really need to USE every bit of land right up to the barrier?
Otherwise, you can disguise it – for example by planting some fast-growing low shrubs; so the badgers simple “go” behind the shrubs out of sight.
Otherwise, digging up the offending material is worth a try; as is using Citronella on the offending ground. However, the badgers may be marking in that precise spot to “match” neighbouring badgers; so you may be better to treat both side of the barrier in the same way.
Suitable fencing is another option, that we will come to that later on.
It is normal for badgers to have a large territory, that they patrol every night. Unless you have an unusually good food source for badgers, it is likely they WILL be feeding in several other areas on their nightly patrols. It may be that your garden simply gives better feeding opportunities than your neighbours gardens. Or, it could be that they come into your garden to snack on their way to or from a neighbour who provides them with food. The best method is usually to try a holistic approach; to work out what lands the badgers are accessing; to see if they can be distracted into certain safe areas or fenced out of other areas. It is better to do this as a community; rather than a single house with no knowledge of local badgers or their habits.
Of course, badgers main food source is earth-worms, and they can cause some problems digging up lawns as they try to get the worms. Evidence of this is usually provided in the form of round or elliptical snuffle-holes, where the badger has pushed it’s snout down into the ground so it can pull up the juicy worm (without the worm snapping in two).
As well as worms, badgers will also eat a variety of insects – many of which are deemed to be pests by gardeners. Eating these insects pests may provide gardeners with a real benefit (fewer wasps, grubs and slugs, for example), but badgers can sometimes cause damage getting to some of these pests. It can be annoying to see lawns dug up by badgers, as they forage after pests which live in the roots of the turf. These insect larva often go unnoticed by gardeners when they exists in low numbers. As the numbers of lawn pests increase this can have the double disadvantage of causing damage to the roots of the lawn (weakening the structure of the lawn turf); and being an enhanced food resource for the badgers. The hungry badgers are then attracted to the pests, which they find easy to get hold of because the pests have weakened the lawn. The solution here is to try to improve the quality of the lawn non-bone-meal fertiliser, raking out moss and repairing damaged sections. It is worth thinking about using eco-friendly non-poisonous ways to reduce the insect load in the lawn too.
In dry summers, the amount of digging done by badgers may increase if they really need to eat wet food (like earthworms), Putting out fresh clean Water (not Milk) can help the badgers feel less de-hydrated, which can mean they cause less garden damage in the hot summer months.
As well as worms, badgers can also eat garden pests – including leather jackets, slugs, snails, wasps nests, various grubs etc.
If you grow “food” in your garden, badgers will be attracted to it too. Moist fruit is good for badgers in hot weather; and almost any food is good in the autumn, when they need to pile on weight to see them through the winter. As well as the food you grow for your own human needs (strawberries, blackberries, plums, apples, grapes, sweetcorn, various vegetables, etc); badgers will also eat other wild fruits and berries that you would not eat. They will eat various grains and even yew berries (poisonous to humans), for example.
Windfall fruit is another seasonal risk with badgers. They will be able to smell the ripening fruit from a long way off; and they will know that a lot of fruit will end up on the ground. It is a surprise to many people how much fruit a badger can eat in the autumn. That said, if they are eating windfall fruit, this may give them enough food to act as so-called distraction-feeding. This means they eat a decent meal and leave, before they have the incentive to go digging up lawns and damaging flower/vegetable beds looking for other food.
Badgers also love to eat some bulbs, roots and tubers – if determined they may well end up ripping up whole areas of flower bulbs too.
There is no chemical which can be legally used as a badger deterrent; so using ANY chemical means you are at some risk of committing an offence under the pesticide regulations or under wildlife protection laws. However, some people have tried using so-called taste deterrents to deter birds and animals from feeding on certain crops at key times. If these are used on flower bulbs, they may deter them from being eaten; and, as they are not human food crops, there is little risk to humans.
Some people have claimed success by treating cloth strips with Citronella, Olbas Oil and Ralgex and hanging those strips around the perimeter of problem areas. The idea being that the pungent smell deters the sensitive nose of many nocturnal animals. You need to refresh the scent periodically and after heavy rain; and it is worth experimenting with different scents if one doesn’t seem to work or if the animals you are trying to deter get used to it.
A variety of companies sell these ultrasonic alarms, which sound a high-pitched sound when they are triggered by the movement of an animal. They are said to work on animals which can hear high-pitch sounds; but they can not be heard by humans. As a new object which appears in a garden, they may appear to work against badgers for a while, but badgers often seem to get used to them, or put up with the annoyance of they are hungry enough.
That said, some key wildlife organisations have endorsed their usefulness to deter animals such as cats; so they may have a use in certain situations. We remain unconvinced as to their effectiveness to deter badgers.
Badgers Feeding from Your Bird Tables and Bins
Badgers will try and eat most things they find. Peanuts are a real delicacy for badgers; and they will be attracted to gardens with bird feeders; as nuts will always fall on to the ground. Badgers may even be able to reach up to bird nuts, fat balls and bird baths.
Accordingly, if you feed the birds, a side effect may be encouraging other wildlife too (badgers, foxes and squirrels). Cutting down on the quantity of nuts on the ground may help deter badgers.
Keeping bins securely closed with locks or extra-strong bungee cords will tend to deter badgers from getting in to eat food waste. Be aware that badgers can easily overturn normal waste bins, so the lid needs to stay secure, even if the bin gets toppled over.
Wheelie bins are normally better at keeping badgers out as they are taller; but a determined badger may be able to pull a wheelie bin over if it can climb up onto the top.
If you cut your lawns short, this simply means that badgers find it easier to locate the worms on the surface. Leaving the grass to grow longer (i.e. several inches), may mean worms are more difficult to find, so badgers don’t end up doing as much damage (though your garden may look less formal than it did before).
Tolerating badgers visiting your garden is an option for some gardeners – especially if you can get used to not minding when they dig up your lawns to get at the worms! After all, the badger doesn’t know your garden it meant to be neat and tidy – it just sees it any another extension of its habitat.
Change things around
Other options include the use of things to “spook” the badgers away.
Being very cautious animals, badgers can be deterred by unusual things or changes to their surroundings. A sudden change (like a security light or a house light coming on) can spook some badgers. A door or a window being opened or closed can do the trick too.
The sight of an obvious human or dog-like shape may help – so a scarecrow with a noisy flapping nylon cape may help deter badgers – especially if you can move it around or swap it with other scarecrows on nearby allotments.
The smell of a human or a dog may put a badger off too – so shuffling your feet (or the dogs feet) around the badger access points in a garden may put of a badger for a few hours.
Other unusual sounds (like wind-charms or noisy-plastic toy windmills or a bunch of old shiny CDs hung up to make a clattering noise) can help for a while too. Other people have tried using highly-reflective aluminized plastic strips on posts; as they flap about in the breeze and create strange reflections patterns from security lights, which may spook badgers for a little while.
A badger which gets take fright will typically stay away for half an hour or more; so having a variety of deterrents may help, if it gets used to one thing not being scary any more.
However, badgers can overcome some of their fears – especially if the food is good enough. Accordingly, make sure dustbin lids are very securely fastened; and smelly food scraps bagged up deep inside the bin. A badger has a sense of smell hundreds of times better than a human; and last nights curry remnants will smell fantastic to a badger, even if they are inside a plastic bin.
Remember too that a badger will be able to overturn a bin if it can get a paw or its nose underneath it!
Making things tricky for badgers
Be aware that badgers are creatures of habit and can be very determined to keep to those habits. The longer a badger has been following a habit; the more difficult it will be to get it to stop. The choice you have to make is how much effort you want to put in to exclude badgers.
Using temporary sticks or picket-type fencing to protect key plants or small areas of important crops is worth a try at first. Gardeners will be familiar with plastic tubes used around young saplings to protect them from being eaten by rabbits. Creating a series of fences using temporary wooden barriers is worth a try until you can find a better long-term solution.
Remember that badgers have claws on their front feet and their back feet. Front claws up to 25mm long mean that can use their immense strength to get through weak points in fences, plastic sheeting and rotten wood if they want to. You are better to use too much protection rather than too little when it comes to badgers.
Protecting Raised Beds, Decking and Sheds from Digging
If badgers are digging up bulbs frequently or getting into raised beds or large urns, some people have suggested using a thick wire grid (weldmesh) to prevent digging.
Here you get a sheet of weldmesh and cut it to size to fit into the raised bed; and fit it just beneath the soil surface.
Now the vegetation will grow through the grid, but the badgers can not dig through it. This does allow you to grow flowers and crops such as potatoes; as the stiff weldmesh can be removed at harvest time.
The same method can be adapted to keep larger animals out if you have a gap under sheds and decking.
Almost goes without saying that this is a potentially costly solution which is normally used for small areas only.
Large Lawn Areas
For larger areas, you can prevent badgers digging deep holes by covering the area with tennis-court-type wire netting which is fixed a couple of inches below the lawn surface.
Again the lawn grows through the mesh very well and this is very useful to stop badgers digging under sheds, foundations and buildings. It is a solution used by Badger Consultants who need to protect railway embankments and flood defences against burrowing by badgers, foxes and rabbits.
Again, this is not cheap, but it is a highly effective method to protect areas of vital importance.
You can protect gardens with tall secure fencing, or by arranging an “assault course” of sticks to deter badgers from making the trip to key sections you want to protect.
The first thing to do is a detailed walk around your garden to see where the badger might be getting in. Holes in hedgerows, fences and walls are commonly used by badgers. Even small holes can be expanded by badgers with an hour or so of effort.
Plugging holes is the best place to start. If they are digging under fences, try setting a concrete paving slab in a trench under the fence to stop them digging under at that point.
Otherwise, having established that it is safe to do so (i.e. no gas or water pipes, drains or cables), drive some long stout sticks vertically into the ground to block any tunnelling attempts at weak points along the boundary. Start with 3cm diameter wooden poles or 4mm diameter metal rods, set a few cm apart.
If you can’t dig into the ground, securing tennis-court-type wire netting on the ground (and to the fence) may be enough to prevent badgers getting through holes in fences.
You can also protect your best garden areas with unclimbable walls and/or very stout fences and wiring.
A badger can climb roughly-built walls, so make sure it can not gain any footholds or claw holds to get over the top. A badger can also climb a wire fence in a somewhat ungainly fashion, so you will need to make sure it is pretty tall (i.e. at least one metre) and has no obvious holds; or ways around, through or under.
The really tricky solutions are where you have gardens which are open plan, with no barriers between neighbours. In these circumstances, the best way forward is to club together as a community and get a recognised badger expert to visit and survey the area so they can advise what can be done. The people to contact here are:
- Your local Badger Group.
- Or, in the case of extensive damage or commercial interests, a Badger Consultant.
- The other fencing option is to use an Electric Fence of a type specifically designed and installed to deter badgers. Most gardeners do not even want to entertain the idea of an electric fence, but they are very effective. Please see the Fencing page for more details.
Protection and Licensing
Badgers remain a protected species, and you can not do anything to cause them actual harm (even if they do wreck your nice garden).
If badgers cause a serious problem, it is sometimes possible to get the badgers moved to another area. However, this requires a licence from the authorities, and good proof of subsidence or serious economic harm. Wrecking a garden is probably not counted as serious harm – unless you are running a commercial garden or the badgers digging is causing subsidence or other structural damage.
If you have a serious problem and you are willing to spend the money on exploring whether badgers could be moved, you need to speak to your local Badger Group or a Badger Consultant; with your chequebook at the ready.
Remember that badger deterrence can no longer be done with the chemical repellent called Renardine. See also our Chemical Deterrence page.
Legal Notice regarding the banning of Renardine:
Renardine was the only legally permitted chemical deterrent which was effective against badgers. As from the 24th March 2005, Renardine has been banned. Importantly, ALL the approvals for Renardine have now expired. This means that:
* Renardine can no longer be advertised for sale.
* Renardine can not be bought from any shop, wholesaler, mail order, agricultural supplies merchants, internet or by private sale.
* Renardine may no longer be supplied, sold, given away or swapped.
* Renardine may no longer by used.
* Renardine may no longer be stored (so any stocks you have must be disposed of).
RenCoco ( Renardine-impregnated cocoa shells) has also been banned.
For more information see the PSD’s web site at http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/approvals.asp?id=1567
BADGER BIOLOGY ^
Badgers are medium sized mammals which have broad heads, short strong legs and a bushy tail. Their front claws are long, designed for digging and they have a black patch on each cheek. There is a white line which runs over the top of their head which extends from its nose. Badgers average around 20 pounds but can exceed weights of 30 pounds if local food supplies allow for good growth. On average, males are larger than females.
Related articles: BOB CAT COYOTE FOX RACCOON
Badgers are found throughout much of the central and western states. Most every state west of the Mississippi has badgers; the open country of the plains states is where they prefer and seldom do populations exist where there are heavy forests. Badgers will readily live along coastal waterways and exist at altitudes in excess of three miles.
Badgers are members of the weasel family and have the characteristic “musky” odor associated with these animals. Either females or males will dig burrows but the females den will always be longer and deeper. This insures a protective environment for growing young. Badgers breed during the summer and fall but implantation of embryos are delayed; gestation begins around February and young are born in early spring. Litters average 3-5 animals. Offspring may begin to reproduce in their first year of life if born early but most will not until their second year. Badgers live an average of 6-9 years but it is not uncommon for them to live over 12 years in the wild.
Badgers are carnivores. They will readily feed on ground nesting animals, their young, reptiles, amphibians or vegetables if meat is not readily available. Badgers have a keen sense of smell and will tract down any small ground living animal. Once the animals nesting burrows are found, the hunting badger will dig and dig until it gets it’s dinner. Badgers will thrive on gophers, chipmunks, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, chickens, turkey, young lambs, domestic dogs and cats and just about any small animal it can find. Badgers are mostly nocturnal and will cover vast areas in search of food. Though the average population of badgers may only be 1-2 per square mile, terrain with enough food can support 10-20 badgers without conflict. Badgers do not hibernate. Though they may go “dormant” for several weeks at a time, many of the animals they like to eat are active during winter. These animals provide a ready supply of food available year round; gophers, rats and other animals which are active even in snow provide nutrition during the coldest of winters.
Though referred to as the “farmers friend”, badgers present more problems than remedies for farmers. The fact that they live on small animals has lead to a great many “urban legends”. The most common is that a badger feeding on rodents on your property will keep their numbers in check. This is not accurate. In fact, there is no documentation to support this belief. It has been noted, however, that badger activity is only present where there are large populations of small mammals. Generally, these populations have gotten too large which has led to the badgers finding them in the first place. In fact, small tolerable populations of those same small rodents might never get the attention of most opportunistic badgers. Since badgers need to eat often, they tend to follow a trail which leads them to populations which are high and dense.
BADGER PROBLEMS AND DAMAGE
Badgers can be a problem around the home for a few reasons. The first is that they’re good diggers. If they smell a food supply in the ground like a mole, vole or gopher, they will dig and dig until they find their target. This can lead to extensive turf damage in the yard.
Badgers will dig up grubs for food as well which again, can create quite a mess. If you suspect you have grubs in the yard, treating as explained in our GRUB CONTROL article can often times force the badgers to forage for food elsewhere.
Badgers will routinely hunt small animals like cats and dogs as well as free roam chicken. They’ve been known to break into chicken coops and will prey upon a range of livestock.
Badgers will target koi fish, frogs and other aquatic life kept in small ponds. They can clean out these areas overnight if left to forage as they want.
HOW TO CONTROL A DAMAGING BADGER
Once a local badger finds your yard for any of the listed food above, its likely they’ll return on a regular basis. Badgers are tough and though shy by nature, they’re not one to back down from a simple confrontation with people.
In general, once you have badgers active in the yard, you have a few choices to keep them away.
The first option is to line your property with a repeller to keep them out of the yard. The second option is to trap the intruder. Trapping will allow you to destroy or relocate the animal which can sometimes be necessary to achieve long term control. But repelling them can be just as effective and in many cases, easier.
Of course, taking away their food is another indirect way of getting them to stay away. So for example, if the badger is attracted to large populations of gophers on your property, implementing a gopher control program as explained in our GOPHER article will get them to reroute their foraging pattern.
If the badger was attracted to your property because of CHIPMUNKS, GROUND SQUIRRELS or PRAIRIE DOGS, reducing their numbers as explained our respective articles will help by forcing the badgers elsewhere for food.
BEST BADGER SOUND REPELLER
For most homeowners, the best way to keep a badger from coming into your yard is to install our SOUND REPELLER.
Badgers are super sensitive to sound and flashing lights. Our unit will effectively scare them away because they use both to alarm and frighten invading animals.
Since badgers are generally nocturnal, you’ll need to set the unit to “night”. And if possible, running the unit via the included power supply brick would be best. This way the ultra sound will be heard by them from over 100 feet away and keep them far from the yard. The motion detector will be “N/A” and the audible sound can be turned all the way down to zero. By default the unit sends out ultra sound and the yellow knob should be set to point at armadillo (its not possible to list all animals on the unit but in this case, the armadillo setting is what works on badgers too).
Now after a couple of weeks of using the device, you can decide to power it with batteries only and when set this way, the unit will only power on when the target animal comes within 30 feet of the device. For this configuration, you’ll need to slide the “Ultrasound” to “Motion”. The Motion Sensor Sensitivity should be on “30” and the Sonic Volume at “60-80”. The Frequency (yellow knob) should be pointing at the word “armadillo” as explained above and the “operating time” should be set to “night”.
Our unit requires 4 “C” cell batteries when powering it this way which will last 2-4 months if not longer. It mostly depends on how much animal activity turns them on. Our unit also includes a wireless key so you can turn it “on/off” if you want to walk your pet or go out to walk around in the protected area.
The motion detector will only sense motion for up to 30-40 feet away so make sure you have them placed where the intruder is known to enter. Once activated, the sound will be annoying to them for up to 75 feet and the audible sound can be disruptive for up to a football field away.
This device will get rid of them for good immediately so its a quick and easy fix for most situations.Units should be placed 1-2 feet above ground and pointed in the direction where animals are entering as well as “over” the turf you want to protect.
For easy installation, MOUNTING BLOCKS are handy. They can accept 1 or 2 repellers (back to back) and have a 1/2″ hole on their bottom so they will easily fit over a 1/2″ piece of rebar or any other wood or plastic stake. Ultra Sound Repellers will work fine by themselves as long as you have a good place to set them up. But we highly recommend getting the Units with Mounting Blocks in the kits we offer. Mounting Blocks allow you to place units anywhere and they will save time too.
We also feature several accessories for our sound repeller including POWER CORD EXTENDERS (33 FEET AND 66 FEET), CIGARETTE LIGHTER POWER ADAPTER, ALLIGATOR CLIP POWER CORD and AC POWER SUPPLY REPLACEMENTS.
BEST BADGER WATER SPRAYER REPELLER
Badgers can also be repelled by spraying them with water. Using motion to activate the unit, our MOTION ACTIVATED WATER SPRAYER can be set out along property borders like the sound repellers but instead of using sound, they use water supplied by a garden hose. Units can be set up in series and will immediately chase away intruding animals. They will have to work around the clock though so if you need to turn them off for awhile, put a timer on the water supply so the water will not flow when you want them off.
And for obvious reasons, they are subject to freezing when it gets cold so for most northern tier regions, the sound repeller is usually the better option for people in these areas.
HOW TO TRAP A BADGER
Live traps are one of the most common ways to catch a badger and are generally easy to use. Since badgers are territorial, removing the invading animal will usually get fast control of the problem. Once removed and relocated, you may not have another animal come around for a long time so there is generally no need to trap out several animals.
To be successful, you need to use a trap large enough for the animal to be comfortable when entering. Our professional heavy duty LT111236 is both large enough and strong enough to contain a badger. Made with heavy gauge wire, this design will last for many years and can be used to trap most any animal in the 20-30 lb range.
Since badgers will return nightly to any yard which is providing food, you just need to place the trap as close to the activity as you can.
This trap measures 11″ wide by 12″ tall by 36″ long and it features a sliding rear door making it easy for both baiting and releasing trapped animals.
BEST BADGER TRAP LURE
For trap lure, use either FISH PASTE or GRUB PASTE. If the activity is close to water, like a pond or stream, the Fish paste will be the way to go. Our paste is made from real fish and badgers cannot resist the offering. Use 1 tablespoon placed in a small cup or non porous plate just behind the trip pan and be sure to smear a teaspoon full on the trip pan too.
But if they’re digging in your yard for grubs, use our GRUB PASTE. Put a teaspoonful on the trip pan and smear it around. Next, place a tablespoon behind the trip pan in a cup or non porous plate.
Another trap that works well for when you know where the badger lives is the LT11236BD. Known as the “bottom door” trap, this design is made for placing directly over entrance/exit holes of animals like woodchucks, marmot, gophers, prairie dogs and badgers. So if you know where the den is located, this trap could be the easiest way to go. Just place it over the hole, secure the trap by placing a heavy log or cement bricks on top and let it lie. Make the set during the day and be sure to inspect the trap every morning. Exiting badgers will have no choice but to move up and into the holding area of the cage where they will get caught. There is no need to use bait for this trap either since they’ll naturally trip the set once inside.
This trap measures 11″ wide by 12″ tall by 36″ long. It also features sliding doors on both sides so you can use it as a standard front entrance trap too. And the back sliding door allows for easy animal release.
LEGHOLD BADGER TRAPS
Another type of live trap commonly used for badgers are leghold traps. These have been used for hundreds of years and come in two styles.
The BRIDGER #3 LEG HOLD design is the original style that has been around since the beginning of the furrier age.Just lay them out in areas where badgers are actively moving. You may want to place some fish paste around the set to get the badger to linger. Conceal the trap with leaves or grass and if the animal steps on the trigger, he’ll get caught. This trap must be anchored to either a strong tree or heavy log. Badgers are strong and failure to secure the trap means it will surely be dragged away.
More recently, the COIL #3 or the COIL #5 trap has become just as popular. Essentially they use the same type of jaw to secure the animal but they do use a different spring mechanism to keep the jaws closed. The #3 traps will be plenty big for most any badger.
But if you have reason to believe the animal might be 30 lbs or more, get the #5 coil trap.
Keep in mind badgers are very strong so simply staking the trap to the ground will not hold them in place. Badgers will readily dislodge any stake so do not use these unless you’re able to secure the trap to a tree or some other immobile object.
Since trap sets for badgers are many times be in terrains which don’t have trees, the use of an anchor such as a large log, a cinder block or other heavy inanimate object is smart and effective. Make your set where they have been recently digging and place some fresh fish paste down any burrow or hole you can find. Badgers will readily return to these areas – even if they caught something – because they know many small animals will quickly occupy vacated dens. The smell of fresh fish will get the badger active and vulnerable when they’re thinking about a quick meal
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Badgers and the law
If you’re concerned that someone has done something illegal to a wild animal, please call our 24-hour Cruelty line on 0300 1234 999 – or contact the police.
Badgers are protected and so are the setts (burrows) they live in. Under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, in England and Wales (the law is different in Scotland) it is an offence to:
- Wilfully kill, injure or take a badger (or attempt to do so).
- Cruelly ill-treat a badger.
- Dig for a badger.
- Intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy a badger sett, or obstruct access to it.
- Cause a dog to enter a badger sett.
- Disturb a badger when it is occupying a sett.
But there are exceptions. Licences to undertake some actions can be issued if it is justified, for example where a badger sett is found on a proposed site for a road or housing development.
Bulldozing a sett in the way of a new road would risk killing or injuring the badgers, so Natural England or Natural Resources Wales may grant a licence allowing the badgers to be carefully excluded, making them move elsewhere in their territory.
For information about the badger cull visit our Bovine tuberculosis page. Defra’s policy on reducing bovine tuberculosis can be found on their website.
Our Living with badgers (PDF 384KB) factsheet provides more information and detailed advice is available in Natural England’s advisory leaflets.
Badgers were given some limited protection in 1973 but weaknesses in the law meant that badger setts were still being dug, bulldozed, blocked or the animals cruelly killed.
We successfully campaigned for better protection and help enforce the law by assisting with police investigations or prosecuting people involved in wildlife crime such as badger digging and baiting.
Undercover RSPCA inspectors have helped bring a number of successful badger digging cases before the courts. Some of these have involved the use of advanced forensic techniques including DNA evidence.
To Kill a Badger
Something stood out in the pasture a half-mile away. It was moving, but not traveling; alive, but strangely stationary. A quick look through the spotting scope revealed two buzzards attending to the wake of some recently passed wildlife neighbor. I loaded the dogs and drove over for a look.
The drought is taking its toll. Along the way, we passed the withered carcass of a young sharptail, not eaten as when taken by a predator, but simply spread across the trail, wings outstretched, as if in warning to go no further. Each quill was still attached and undisturbed, but carrion beetles had done their work and left it an empty piñata of feathers. Not soon after, a nearly grown magpie that had been old enough to fly, but not knowledgeable enough to survive, stared sightlessly as we drove past.
Last week I fished four meadowlarks out of the horse tank in one morning. There are ramps and a floating plank just so they can make their way out if they don’t panic, but the heat and the drought got to them and they drown. I began to hear an Alfred Hitchcock sound track play through my mind.
There was plenty for the buzzards to eat and I anticipated they’d found another coyote-killed fawn. No twins in my area this year, and many a solitary doe. The small antelope herd has managed to bring only one fawn through alive among the ten of them. The coyotes have prospered, but the heat and lack of cover have made for easy hunting.
Upon our arrival, the black birds lifted off, pointed down with their wingtips showing us the way. Their supper was not the young venison I had imagined, but instead a retired momma badger. I was taken aback. There was no blood on her teeth or tears in her flesh other than the one the buzzards had been making. She showed no signs of having succumb to a fight. When rarely I stumble upon the remains of a badger, I expect signs of a battle. Its what badgers do best.
There is a part of me that loves a good fight. It is a sliver of my childhood from a time several generations ago when the fighting spirit of a man was vital to the success of a nation. I also love a woman who is filled with that same trait, was raised by a female warrior, and I have a daughter who wades in whenever challenged.
I coach a debate team where I actively recruit young people of both genders who have that glint in their eyes that we affectionately call “salty.” There is a massive difference between surly and rude and the joyful soul who also just happens to enjoy mixing it up.
If you are planning on doing battle with a badger, you’d better pack a lunch. I’ve raised two dogs who backed down badgers in defense of their homes. They never drew blood. Walking up to a fight and showing more desire and intensity than a badger is rare. More than half of life’s troubles will cross the street to avoid you if you give the impression you’ve come prepared. Both of those Airedales had that attitude in spades. I readily admit to mostly crossing the road to avoid conflict and surrounding myself with warrior women.
Closer inspection revealed that the badger had claws twice the normal length and teeth that were worn and blunt. Some injury or age had deteriorated the muscles that powered her digging for food and the natural wear or her claws. Life and the drought had caught up to her. In the end, there was no one there to fight, no street to cross.
Other species are struggling too.
Lack of moisture and pasture regrowth have pushed the bucks to gather together earlier than normal. There is only one lush stand of alfalfa in the valley and they have been coming from over a mile of prairie each night to eat. Drought years can be good for antler growth and racks are tall.The heat and drought are also impacting the fisheries.
Son Lane reports from Brookings that trophy fish above the slot limits are being returned as required by law, but they are unable to tolerate the shock of the warm temperatures and many are dying upon release. Trophy fish that would make more than a meal or would shine on some fisherman’s wall are being found belly up along the banks.
Across the state, CRP fields that normally provide shelter for wildlife have been cut and bailed to help distressed ranchers. This weather is going to require a fighting spirit to get through. The badger might be a good role model for us all.
Columnist: Bob Speirs
Bob Speirs – owner and operator of Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service in Spearfish, South Dakota has been writing award winning articles, stories and poems that entertain and educate hunters for over 15 years. Known for his outstanding whitetail management and hundreds of satisfied customers, Bob’s unique perspectives and insights help to educate and entertain hunters everywhere!