Here is a video of some local badgers feeding in a small wood near the river fields. They are eating some peanuts that have been left under the leaves as a bait. You will see that the largest badger, probably a sow with three cubs hears something and a few seconds later panics when a dead branch breaks and the whole family run to their burrows nearby. After only a few minutes, they were recorded as back feeding again. It is not known what broke the branch, but later a muntjac deer appeared near the camera.

There are several families of badgers living around the edge of the Fold and these large animals often use it for night-time foraging. Badgers eat mostly earthworms and insect larvae, but also some vegetable matter such as bluebell bulbs and fruits such as fallen apples, blackberries and even baby mice and rabbits. They will also eat hedgehogs if they find them, having powerful claws which can be used to prise the tightly curled hog open. They often will dig out wasp nests to eat the grubs and will forage for grain such as oats, if fields are available near their setts. Badgers are very nocturnal and will never come out in daylight unless ill or starving, unless they live in a very undisturbed place where sometimes they will come out at sunset to play and groom. Around the Fold, our badgers sometimes do not emerge until 10.00 pm until 1.00 am so a trail camera is a great way to watch what they are up to. Each badger will go out nightly to walk slowly around a system of marked and well trodden trails, pausing at times to sniff out food and listen for danger.

The male badger is called a boar and the female a sow. They can live for about 15 years, but cubs will often not survive their first winter, and they are more or less fully grown after six to eight months. The female cubs are able to breed after one year but male cubs do not mature until they are two years old. Usually a sett is inhabited by a dominant boar, with two or more sows and a variable number of cubs. Male cubs will be driven away by the boar after they become mature. The biggest number inhabiting a single sett was 23 badgers!

The badgers do not hibernate but during cold and very wet weather, like us they are reluctant to venture far from their deep and warm burrows. These burrows excavated by successive individuals, form a complex network of underground tunnels, some setts have been recorded for hundreds of years of continuous occupation. Deep underground, the nest areas are lined with leaves and other vegetation which are refreshed from time to time, with new dry and clean material. Badgers also use a toilet pit called a latrine to defecate into. These latrines are often found around the edge of the territory that each group of badgers inhabits, and act as a signal to other strange badgers coming near.

Badgers have a complex dominance system, like many animals that live for a long time with only the dominant female able to live and mate with the dominant male without fighting. Other females and younger males live a precarious life, with any other cubs running the risk of being killed by more senior animals. Badgers mate throughout the year but only after, the fertilized eggs implant and start to develop, so that the young badger cubs are borne at the best time of year when food is most abundant. There can be four or five cubs but survival of all of them is rare.

Badgers have greatly increased in number in the last 50 years and since they are a vector for Bovine TB, a disease that can be passed to cattle and even humans, this has led to persecution over the last 25 yers, with government culling usually via shooting of trapped badgers. 63,000 or more have been killed in this way in the UK in 2019 at a cost of about £60 million. Opinion is very divided over whether badgers do actually transmit TB to cattle, but there is now an effective vaccine available that could be used to immunise bother badgers and cattle. Surprisingly cattle breeders and DEFRA seem to be resisting the introduction of this, which would be far cheaper than culling if adopted generally. In any case, badger experts are almost unanimous in their opinion that the evidence is that culling does not eliminate the risk of TB and can actually increase populations of badgers once killing is halted.

Keith Falconer December 2019