From the archives: A badger walk (part 1)

22 April 2007: On Sunday I led a ‘badger walk’ for members of my local badger protection group, Brockwatch. The ‘venue’ was the wood where I saw my first badgers, 30 years ago this month. There are six badger setts in the wood, and plenty of wildlife too, so I knew there would be lots of interesting things to show my fellow Brockwatchers. In fact there were so many interesting things that I’m going to split them between two blog entries. First the badger stuff, and then the other wildlife. So here goes with the badgers…

Those who did the full walk got to see all six badger setts, and became very familiar with these amazing examples of animal architecture. Setts are often occupied by generations of badgers over periods of many years. This one had just two entrance holes when I first found it over 30 years ago (including the one shown in the photo above). Now it has nine entrances, six of which showed signs of current use on Sunday.

How can badger setts be distinguished from the burrows of rabbits and foxes? Looking at the entrance holes helps. Badger tunnels are much bigger than those of rabbits, and are usually wider than they are tall, with a flattened bottom. The shape looks a bit like the letter D lying on its side, as you can see from the photo above.

A close look at the soil outside the holes can reveal further clues, like badger hairs. The hairs from the badger’s back and flanks are white, with a black band just below the tip. It is this mixture of black and white on each hair that gives badgers their grey appearance. The contrasting shades stand out well if the hairs are viewed against a dark background (in this case, the leg of my trousers).

Traces of bedding material can often be found outside the sett entrances too. Badgers collect bundles of dry grass, straw or leaves and take them underground to line their chambers. Evidence of this, in the form of trails of bedding material or even whole bundles, can be found at the sett afterwards. At this time of year, badgers like to take in green bedding – grass or bluebell leaves. We found trails of bluebell leaves (and flowers) several metres long leading into entrance holes at four of the five setts we visited.

The well-used badger pathways leading away from setts towards foraging areas are particularly easy to spot now that the bluebells are up. This path runs from a sett in the middle of the wood. In the past I have followed it from the sett to the woodland edge and the pasture beyond, nearly 400 metres away.

One thing I really didn’t want to find on our walk was evidence of badger persecution. Unfortunately, and quite by chance, I came across an ‘outlier’ sett (a small sett consisting of just one hole) which had clearly been dug into by people in the fairly recent past. I do not know whether a badger was taken from the sett by the diggers. What I do know is that from now on I will be visiting this wood more frequently and keeping a closer watch on the setts there.

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