Archive for the ‘badger foraging’ Category

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

Badger Mitigation Works

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Whenever people want to undertake large building projects across our green and pleasant countryside, some-one always claims that the scheme can’t go ahead because of the presence of badgers. Sometimes this is because badgers are genuinely in residence and the development would badly affect them. At other times, and more often than not in our experience, objectors play the “badger card” to try to get the unwanted development stopped; without any real concern for our furry black and white friends. We are not against all developments in the countryside, as many provide real benefits for humankind. We do think it’s a bit rich for the nimby brigade to use badgers for their own purposes, when they’ve never been involved with helping their local badgers before though. Badgers are a keynote species that we should care for, before we think they can be used to get planning permission stopped. Anyway, that’s our daily rant done for today – we will now start to talk about what happens when you really need to consider the needs of badgers and developers – in other words, the whole tricky subject of badger mitigation.

Let’s assume the person behind the building scheme is a developer (although it could be a government department, a railway, a pipeline or a cable company or a roadbuilder).

Before the scheme can be given the legal go-ahead, the developer must be able to demonstrate that their proposals will not have a detrimental impact on badgers. This is likely to involve the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures to safeguard the animals, their setts and their foraging habitat. There is a whole host of “Best Practice” guides for what this might mean; but they are generally better to buy in the services of a badger consultant who really knows about badgers.


Assuming the sett location is not to be destroyed, one key area to examine is the loss of foraging territory for the badgers.

It may be that a significant proportion of a badger territory is to be lost to the development – this is especially bad news of it includes important feeding areas. To mitigate against the loss it may be possible to enhance the foraging value of the remaining territory to compensate for any feeding areas lost. Supplementary feeding with ‘artificial’ foodstuffs is not recommended as this leads to the badgers becoming largely dependent on humans. A better approach is to consider improving the quality of the remaining areas of grassland, through appropriate management, thereby increasing the abundance of earthworms. That said, it is both lazy and irresponsible simply to expect badgers to replace lost foraging by feeding in gardens or other amenity areas. This will only lead to animosity from neighbouring landowners, many of whom will not welcome badgers digging up their lawns, greens and flower-beds.

Road Safety

Even with the crazy government idea to kill badgers across the south west of England, more badgers still die on roads than from any other cause. Badgers can be helped to cross roads safely by purpose-built underpasses/tunnels and badger-proof fencing. These underpasses must be located on or very very close to existing badger paths. When new roads are planned, the proposed measures to protect badgers must be designed during the design stage, to allow tunnels and fencing to be integrated with drainage, cuttings and embankments. The correct positioning and specification for these structures is absolutely essential, otherwise they will be ineffective and a waste of money. They will result in badgers getting on to the roads where they will get killed; with consequent damage to motor vehicles and potential vehicle accidents. Hitting a 13kg badger at 70mph will cause serious damage to the structure of a motor vehicle; and could easily kill a motorcyclist.

Fences and Walls

Dry stone walling may be specified along new roads because it looks nicer than a fence. Such walling seems to be an ever increasing feature on new motorways and road upgrades. So far as badgers are concerned a dry-stone wall is not suitable as a badger barrier. If used, it must be designed with a suitable wire overhang to stop badgers getting over the top of the wall.

A proper badger-proof fence is better for the badgers; but you need to get your badger consultant to specify it in detail. Whilst a fencing contractor can do the manual work, the detail has to be specified by some-one with real experience of the mentality of the badger – an animal that has great strength, excellent digging skills, good climbing ability and more-or-less no road-sense.

As the entire point of the badger-proof wall or fence is to keep the badgers off the road, all the mitigation works must be in place before the new or altered road is open to traffic!

Excluding badgers & providing artificial setts

Badgers spend huge amunts of time digging and developing their main setts. They are very unwilling to leave them; and extremely keen to return given the chance. Consequently, every effort should be made to retain badger setts on the site, especially the critically important main setts. However, if the destruction of a sett is unavoidable, Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage can licence the exclusion of badgers from the sett, followed by its immediate destruction. At a cost (to the developer) exclusion can be humanely achieved by a combination of badger-proof fencing and/or specially designed one-way gates that allow the badgers out of the sett area, but prevent their re-entry. Note that the licence has to be issued before the exclusion work begins; and the work can be done only within a few months of the year. Contact your badger consultant for more details of the closed season for this type of work.

Of course, licences to exclude badgers from main or annexe setts will normally only be issued if a suitable programme of mitigation has already been done. A licence will only be issued if there are alternative suitable setts available to the badgers, within the same territory. If other suitable setts are not available, an artificial sett must be provided, but this must be seen as the least preferred option. The site must be carefully selected and all work supervised by a badger expert. The most successful artificial setts have been located less than 100 metres from the original natural sett and constructed at least six months before the badgers are excluded. This might seem like a bureaucratic nightmare, but the rules are designed to protect badgers AND to make sure the mitigation schemes work for the long term.

Some people ask whether all this wildlife work is worthwhile. If you are a badger hater, you probably think it isn’t. However, we have worked on various badger projects in Britains woodlands and fields; and we think everyone who has worked with us sees the benefits of working with nature. We aren’t just talking about wildlife-friendly people like us, but we include several “seasoned” construction workers. Whilst they might come across as hard-working, hard-playing, hard-drinking roadmen; we are sure they are secretly proud of the badger protection work they did. They are certainly always on site whenever any badgers are being brought back in to the site. Curiously, it always seems to be the same guys with the mini-diggers who are available for the badger work; so there are many more badger fans than you might think.

If you are ever wanting to do your bit for wildlife, you could contact your local badger group, to see if they could use your skills. There are dozens of groups across the UK, why so not check out if there is one near you:

You might want to get involved in badger protection work; or you might just want to see badgers doing their natural wild animal behaviour. In any event, badgers are one of Britains keynote species who deserve to keep the legal protection they have had for several decades. Seeing them in the wild IS something you’d want to share with everyone.