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The Eurasian badger is one of Britain's largest wild animals. These striking black and white creatures are nocturnal and shy of human contact. A rare glimpse of a badger is a sight to remember.

A badger Badgers are short-legged omnivores, distinguished by their black and white striped face.

Badger facts

Scientific name: Meles meles

Family: Mustelidae

Diet: Mainly earthworms, but also hedgehogs, rodents, insects, seeds, berries, and lizards

Predators: Cubs are sometimes taken by foxes or large birds of prey

Size: 65-80cm

Weight: 8-12kg

Lifespan: 5-8 years on average, up to 14

Badgers in Britain

Badgers, also known as brocks, live communally in underground 'setts'. With four to 12 badgers to a clan, these setts often pass down generations. There are some over a hundred years old.

Badgers have made their home in Britain for at least 250,000 years according to palaeontological evidence. They're resilient, intelligent, and adaptable animals, having survived the extinction of other native species like cave bears, wild boar, and wolves. Today, the UK has a quarter of the global population.

Badgers and our canals

Badgers often find canal embankments, particularly sandy ones, very easy to dig and establish setts there. Canals provide valuable habitats for badgers, with easy access to food. The presence of badgers along our network showcases the success of our efforts to improve biodiversity and help nature thrive.

However, badgers don't always know when to stop digging. Setts on canal embankments sometimes cause leaks and breaches, risking the badgers' safety and disrupting the canal system. We keep an eye on badgers living close to the water's edge and occasionally have to relocate them if they're in danger of getting wet.

How to identify a badger

Short and stocky with silvery-grey backs and striking stripes running from nose to shoulder, badgers are distinctive among mammals. Their powerful build makes them the largest land predator in the UK.

There are few noticeable differences between boars and sows (male and female badgers). Cubs are born with light silver hair, and the characteristic facial stripes appear after a few days.

What do badgers eat?

Badgers are omnivores, meaning they'll regularly consume a variety of food. Earthworms are their preferred choice, making up around 80% of a badger's diet. They can eat hundreds in one night.

However, badgers will also eat fruit, slugs, other invertebrates, and when food is scarce, hedgehogs. Their tough skin and long, sharp claws make badgers one of the only predators of hedgehogs in the UK.

While badgers live in clans, they forage independently using their keen sense of smell and claws.

How do badgers breed?

Badgers mate all year round, but predominantly occurs between February and May. Male badgers show interest by biting the nape of the sow's neck. Regardless of when courtship and mating occur, cubs are born around January or February. This is because of a process called delayed implantation.

Litters will be anywhere between one to five cubs, most averaging around two or three. Badger cubs stay in underground chambers for about 12 weeks and reach maturity after a year. Some badgers might stay with their families, but others venture to find new territory.

Where do badgers live?

Eurasian badgers live across Europe, through Japan and some parts of China. In the UK, badgers are most commonly found in the southwest and Wales, with some setts also flourishing in areas of north England.

A tunnel in the ground, surrounded by dry leaves and grass, marks the entrance to a badger's sett. A tunnel in the ground, surrounded by dry leaves and grass, marks the entrance to a badger's sett.

An underground maze

A badger's sett is an underground maze of tunnels and nesting chambers occupied by a family group or clan and often inherited by successive badger generations.

They prefer to dig setts in woodland, hedgerows, and canal embankments. The outside cover enables badgers to emerge and cubs to play without being too visible to humans or predators.

Badgers are well-ordered and hygienic creatures. They regularly discard their old bedding and dig their dung pits 10-15 metres away from the sett. This is also a useful method of marking their territory, which they're prepared to defend fiercely when necessary. If you're on the lookout for badgers, you'll know if a sett is inhabited by its neat and tidy doorways with the smelly toilet pit a short distance away.

In the cities

Although uncommon, badgers can make their homes in towns and cities like urban foxes. If there's suitable cover to dig setts and nearby parks or gardens for food, they might settle down in more urban areas.

Tips to spot badgers

Keep your eye out for badger tracks when on walks in woodlands, as they might lead you to the badger's sett. They're fairly distinctive with long-clawed prints. If you can't find any footprints, look for disturbed ground that might be badger latrines.

Once you've found a sett, wait quietly for the badgers to emerge, typically around dusk. It's best to sit downwind of the sett so the badgers don't pick up your scent.

Remember to maintain a respectful distance. Badgers are naturally shy, and it's against the law to disturb them.

Badger footprints in the mud show long claws with five toe pads. Did you know that you can identify a badger's print by its five claws and kidney-shaped pad?

What's the best time of day to spot badgers?

Badgers are nocturnal animals and most active at night. To see a badger, it's best to try at dusk or dawn when they're entering or leaving their setts.

What's the best time of year to spot badgers?

You're more likely to see badgers in the warm summer months when they might leave the sett before sunset.

Threats to badgers

Badgers are protected by law, but many are still killed in road accidents and illegal persecution.

Other species to look out for

Family nature guide 2019

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Identify footprints and read fascinating facts about the creatures who make their homes along our canals and rivers

Last Edited: 14 May 2024

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