Archive for November, 2015

One-way gates have been reported on a badger sett…

Saturday, November 7th, 2015

We have been emailed about one-way badger gates which have been fitted to a badger sett. These may be used under licence to exclude badgers from a sett; so they can be moved into another sett. The person who contacted us was worried about the badgers; and whether they would be driven into making a sett in his own garden. Here is the text of our email reply.


Badgers live in an underground home called a sett. The sett (i.e. the land area which contains the entrance holes, the tunnels and nesting chambers) is a protected structure. This means that the sett can not be closed, damaged or interfered with in any way. The exception is where some-one has obtained a licence from Natural England to do something which would otherwise be illegal.

Given your message, I assume that a badger licence-type activity is what is happening in your locality. The likelihood is that a landowner has used a badger consultant or an ecologist (or maybe even the local badger group) to obtain a licence on their behalf. Whilst it would be polite to let immediate neighbours know of the licence application; this does not always happen. Both the granting of the licence and its terms/conditions are protected by the Data Protection Act, so that Natural England will not disclose the details to you; unless the landowner asks them to. Professional developers will be aware that the presence of badgers on a site may prevent or delay planning permission; which is a risk factor they would try to avoid. Sometimes therefore you do find developers who try to make sure that badgers (and other protected species, such as water voles, bats, etc) are moved out of the way before they apply for planning permission. Note that development does not always mean new housing; as it could include business, industry, pipelines or cables. It can also mean that the badgers are being moved because they are becoming a danger to themselves (such as by extending their sett underneath a busy road) and it is commonsense to move them before a tunnel collapse might cause a serious traffic accident.

Badger licences are normally granted because there is a genuine need to move the sett. Some-one just not liking the idea of them coming into a garden to forage for worms is not a serious enough reason – even if they cause lawn damage. The licence process is looking for a serious health and safety reason (such as building/road subsidence or digging into a flood defence) or because of a need to move the sett to allow the development to take place. There is no provision in the law to simple render the badgers homeless or to have them killed. This is why a badger licence will normally require the landowner to build a new artificial sett for the badgers nearby. The licence will then normally require that the badgers are monitored to see that they have been accessing the artificial sett. This may require night-time observations or the use of infra-red wildlife cameras. Once it is clear the artificial sett has been explored by the badgers; the process of closing down the natural sett can start. If the badgers do not seem keen on the artificial sett; they may be encouraged to use it by being fed things like wet dog food nearby.

The sett exclusion normally starts with fitting metal badger gates to the natural sett entrances and leaving them as two-way gates for a few days. Then a metal “stop” peg will be placed on the gates to make sure the badgers can emerge from the natural sett and not return. The idea is that this forces them into taking up residence in the artificial sett. Again, the badgers need to be monitored during this time; as they are likely to make extremely persistent efforts to return to their real home. It should be expected that the sett area may need to be covered with many square metres of strong tennis-court-type galvanised steel netting. Ideally this will stop them simply digging new entrance holes to get back into their home. Even if steel netting is in place, the badgers are likely to try to get underneath it or break through it where it may be joined or where it may abut fence posts or trees. In the case of an outlier sett, the badgers may give up on their natural sett after a few attempts at getting back in. Outlier setts (maybe 1 to 4 entrance holes) will not be in use by all the badgers of the clan and may be unoccupied for several months of the year. However, a main sett (maybe 6 to 50 entrances) is a different problem; as this will be the main home of the whole clan and will be in continuous occupation. In the case of very old badger setts; they may have been using the same sett for hundreds of years; so closing a main sett is often fraught with real difficulty.

Another complicating factor is that badger licences (and the work they permit) are time-limited, as described on the following page:
If you were to put one-way gates on a badger sett in the early part of the year this could cause young cubs to starve to death. If the sett was closed in December, the stress could cause female badgers to lose any unborn cubs. Therefore a sett can be closed only from the beginning of July through to the end of November. In other words, if the badgers have not been totally excluded by the last day of November; the sett-closure process needs to be abandoned and restarted again from the beginning of July in the following year. Hence, there will be a great deal of pressure at your sett to make sure the one-way gates remain intact and there is no re-entry back into the old sett over the next few weeks. In the case of commercial developments, I have known cases where security guards have been employed to make sure that one-way gates were not damaged; as this would cause a huge delay to the development.

Proof of badgers being excluded from the real sett will need to be established in one of several different ways. Firstly, infra-red cameras may be in place. Secondly, ecologists may be looking for signs of current badger activity inside the natural sett (fresh footprints, fresh dung, fresh scent marking, unbroken spider webs across entrance holes, etc). The ecologist will need to be able to show that there have been at least a certain number of consecutive days of no evidence of badgers being back in the old sett. Once he/she has the evidence, the sett will need to be closed as soon as possible. This should take place under the direction of an ecologist; and can included filling the tunnels with concrete foam or excavating it with a JCB-type digger or some combination of the two. The ecologist should be equipped with a means of catching a badger from the old sett so it can be put into the new one.

Note that the specific details of the dates, the number of consecutive days of “no badgers” and the closure methods will be given in the licence document. If he has any common-sense, the ecologist will have the licence document with him. If he were to be carrying out any unlicensed sett interference or destruction, he would be liable to arrest by the Police for damaging a badger sett or causing harm to badgers.

Of course, the issue for you; is that what will the badgers do next.
In some cases the badgers like their new home and live there quite happily. If the artificial sett has been built so they can expand it by adding their own new tunnels and chambers, this is more likely to be the case.
In others they just don’t seem to like the new sett and make ongoing efforts to return to their old sett (even if it may have been damaged or destroyed).
They may also try to expand old fox/rabbit holes or, in extreme cases, take residence under sheds or decking.
At other times, they may use the new sett for a few weeks or months and then decide to explore the area looking for a bit of sloping ground which is above the water table and try to dig their own sett in there.
It is difficult to predict without detailed knowledge of the area and how badger use the locality. We would expect the ecologist to be the best person to have this knowledge.

As for keeping badgers out of a garden, our advice on suitable fencing is on the following page:
There is a lot of advice on there, so I’ll let you read it. That said, badger-proof fencing is not really the nicest looking fencing in a domestic garden. Of course, with enough reason to come into a garden, badgers may well just wander up and down open driveways and footpaths if they are not stressed out by the noise of people or barking dogs.

Hence, it is worth inspecting the perimeter of your property to see where badgers could come through hedges or fences; as well as squeeze or tunnel under any other barriers.
Badgers can climb very well; so it is worth looking for lines of scratches on walls and fences if you suspect they may be climbing in.
Footprints and scratch marks left by badgers are shown on the following page:

If there is a risk that badgers or foxes may expand small gaps or holes to get underneath sheds or garages; it is a lot easier to fill any gaps with concrete or secure steel mesh before any animal can take residence.
Particularly, with badgers, eviction can be a lot of trouble; as an established badger sett under a garage/shed is just as protected under the law as a sett in a woodland.

It is also worth thinking about why badgers come into gardens. This is normally to get to food (earthworms on a lawn, bird nuts, windfall fruit, carrion, pet food, food waste bins or bin bags) or to gain access to another garden where they are fed. The key thing is to make sure that there is no excess bird food or other food waste; either in your own garden or left out by any neighbours who like to feed birds, badgers or foxes. The issue with windfall fruit is highly seasonal and the best way may just be to tolerate this for a few weeks. It can sometimes help if you dump windfall fruit in a non-contentious place (such as in a quiet corner of an adjacent field); as this can give badgers a decent feed and can reduce the risk of them causing lawn damage, etc. This is what is known as so-called “distraction feeding”. Note that over-feeding can just encourage more badgers to come by which can make a modest problem worse.

More generally, so far as feeding is concerned, badgers are likely to be forage in an area from anything from 20 to 200 acres. Hence, their feeding patterns are not likely to be massively disrupted by the closure of a small outlier-type sett. It is normally disruption of access to their foraging areas (grassland) due to new roads; or the loss of habitat due to housing/industrial estates that does the real damage to their ability to thrive.

Moving forward, it is probably worth having a sneaky look around any neighbours or the sett area to see if the ecologists are providing food  near the new sett, as well as to see if any wildlife cameras can be spotted. Wildlife cameras are often in a green/brown camouflage pattern and will either use invisible infra-red light or (perhaps) show a very faint red glow from any LED illumination at night. These cameras typically work duding daylight hours too; so they may record other species and human activity.

Also, could I ask that you contact the local badger group to let them know of the potential badger issues in your area.
I’m sure they would be interested to know of the badgers nearby. They may also wish to get involved if any planning applications pose a risk to badgers or their loss of green fields or other vital habitat.

With many thanks

Simon Flory
Badger Specialist