The badger guide

The rise of the urban badger, as humans develop on historical badger territories, brings with it some growing pains as humans and badgers learn to coexist peacefully. Badgers carry on going about their business and in doing so occasionally cause issues with their human neighbours. Many view badgers as a treat and are delighted by their presence, while others view them as night time pests.  Regardless of your view read our handy guide to living alongside your local badgers...

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Feeding badgers

The Badger Trust does not recommend feeding badgers. You may enjoy attracting badgers but this could be problematic for others in your neighbourhood. If you feel like you must feed them in severe weather, when natural resources are in question, a small handful of peanuts will suffice. In times of drought, we suggest you put out water and covered cat biscuits (to prevent flies and other animals) rather than peanuts. Just like with dogs and cats, human foods are not healthy.

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Traffic accidents

Thousands of badgers are killed on our roads every year. The Badger Trust collates road traffic accidents to identify hot spots where mitigation should be placed or identify new setts. Please report fatalities to the Badger Trust. Occasionally the prompt investigation of RTAs reveals the presence of orphaned cubs nearby that can be rescued.

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Injured badgers

Badgers injured in fights sometimes retreat to places where they can rest and recover in peace, free from the attentions of would-be aggressors. Perfectly healthy badgers can also turn up in outhouses which appear to be a good place to spend the day. Barns, garden sheds, corners of gardens, spaces under patios are often chosen. Badgers found in buildings should, wherever possible, be assessed by an experienced individual, ideally by contacting a local badger group. Any ugly-looking bite wounds to their necks or rear quarters will often recover very quickly without intervention, but should always be assessed by someone with specific knowledge who can then decide if the animal can be left of its own accord, or if it may need to be checked by a vet.
 
If you find a badger either in unnatural surroundings or above ground during daylight hours, they may be injured or unwell. Do not attempt to approach the animal, but seek expert help as soon as possible if you are concerned. Frightened animals may bite in self-defence. Trained wildlife rehabilitators, RSPCA inspectorate, and experienced members of badger groups have the skill and experience to approach, handle and make badgers safe in secure carrying cages, so please wait until they arrive at the site.

The Badger Rehabilitation Protocolis a published guide that should be used when dealing with badger rescue and rehabilitation. Initially produced as a collaboration between Secret World Wildlife Rescue, RSPCA and Badger Trust in 2003, it was comprehensively updated in 2018 by Dr Elizabeth Mullineaux, a recognised specialist in wildlife medicine (mammals), at the prompt of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2018. The protocol can be accessed here. Badger rescue should not be attempted without expert help.

Always remember that badgers and their setts are protected by law, and in many circumstances, a licence is needed prior to any action that is likely to cause the animals or their home disturbance or risk doing so. We recommend contacting your local badger group where possible in the first instance for help. If you do not have a local group, try to contact your local wildlife rescue, the RSPCA or call Badger Trust on 01273 033440 to see if we can find another option. Please note as a small charity the phone line is not staffed 24 hours, and only Monday to Friday during office hours. If we are not able to take your call and it is urgent please contact the RSPCA.

Badger poking its head out of a sett. © Badgers Strathbeg 5-5-18 by Dod Morrison photography

Dogs in Badger Setts

Small dogs, like terriers, are very curious about animal holes and, on occasion, try and get down sett entrances if you’re out walking them off the lead.

 

Firstly, if you own such a breed, it is your responsibility to keep your dog on a lead in areas where badgers may be present or you can see a badger sett. This is even more important in the winter and spring months, when newborn cubs may be present underground and the smell, heightened by the cold air, can make dogs inquisitive.

Secondly, be aware that badgers, and their setts, are protected by law. The Protection of Badgers Act (1992) sets out the full protection, but in terms of dogs and badgers’ setts, the legislation states that it is an offence to ‘damage, destroy, obstruct or cause a dog to enter a badger sett.’ So allowing your dog to go too near a badger sett at all is best avoided for you, your dog and the badgers.

What to do if your dog enters a badger sett and does not return

Here is a guide on what you must do if your dog enters a badger sett and does not return:

  1. Establish if your dog has actually entered the sett via an entrance hole; sometimes people think the dog has, but it has run past or behind.

  2. Do Not Dig – this may be your first instinct, but apart from being an illegal activity (without a licence), this could result in an injured or dead dog/badger.

  3. Identify the hole entered and keep an eye on that and other nearby entrance/exit holes.

  4. Record your location (a grid reference or what3words is beneficial).

  5. Call the RSPCA and your local Badger Group or us at Badger Trust.

  6. Stay at the sett – this is important as the dog may leave anytime. If you are not there, you may incorrectly assume it is still underground, plus your dog will not easily find you if it gets out. If you can’t stay, get someone else to stay – perhaps in shifts – as you could have a long wait.

  7. Listen out for your dog and call to it. If it can hear you, it may be encouraged to make efforts to get out.

  8. Food – place your dog’s favourite food and water at nearby holes – this can entice your dog out.

  9. Toys – it can be worth trying a ‘squeaky’ toy that the dog loves and will recognise so that it can hear it, locate you and attempt to head to you.

  10. Time – you MUST wait 48 hours (unless the dog comes out sooner) before taking any other action. In nearly all cases, the dog will appear within that time frame.

 

Please Remember

Badgers and their setts are protected by law, and whilst your priority is to get your dog out of the sett you must remain calm, work to coax your dog out of its own accord, and bear the following in mind:

  • No action must be taken until all parties are notified; this includes the landowner and Natural England, who, if necessary, will issue a licence for exploratory/rescue work.

  • Under licence, a camera can be inserted into the sett to try and locate the dog.

  • As a last resort, an attempt can be made to dig down to the dog if the licence allows, but this is risky and can endanger both the life of the dog and any badgers present.

  • Remember, dogs can survive underground without food for several days, and often this timelapse needs to occur so that the dog can squeeze free if wedged in a tunnel.

 

Always seek help from the RSPCA or local badger group advice and DO NOT interfere with the badger sett until permission is granted. 


Inspector Diaries – Dog stuck in a badger sett (2017)

Inspector Jaime Godfrey is called to a case of a dog stuck down a badger hole. Can he and the fire brigade rescue it?*

The full RSPCA story 


*Please note that the Fire Brigade is also subject to the provisions of the Protection of Badgers Act (1992) and cannot act on an active sett without a licence from Natural England. Specific guidance for Fire Brigades (and others) from Natural England can be found here 

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Lawn damage

Badgers find food where they can. Often unseen and unheard, they wander quietly into gardens at night feeding on the earthworms, grubs, snails and slugs they find in lawns and borders. They usually leave small visual signs, a snuffle hole, pieces of scratched turf, as visual evidence of their nighttime visit.  In dry or frosty conditions when natural food is hard to come by, they can damage flower beds and lawns in desperate search of food. 

If you are having issues with badgers digging up your lawns see here for further information on leatherjackets and chafer grubs. Controlling the food source can be the first deterrent if you are unhappy about your nighttime visitors.

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Deterrents

When considering deterring any badgers (and perhaps any wild animal) from a garden it should be remembered that wild animals are just that – wild. They have no conception of gardens, fences, or where humans would rather they did or didn’t go, but are simply exploring the area that may have been their home long before the person arrived there to share it with them. Many people are not lucky enough to see a live badger, and so having a badger visit a property or garden could be considered quite a special thing. Considering the matter from this perspective can be useful when dealing with any inconvenience or damage that they may cause. 

 

Badgers can be discouraged or prevented from entering gardens by solid, effective fencing, locked gates and the use of ultrasonic deterrent devices (not always 100 per cent effective, can be expensive and may impact other animals in the vicinity). A radio left on all night in a garden – at a level which doesn’t offend neighbours – has been reported as successfully discouraging badgers from entering. However, where practical, electric fences are the most effective humane deterrents. There are no legal proven chemical deterrents for badgers. Recurring attempts by badgers to enter gardens are sometimes resolved only when a badger-proof mesh is trenched to a depth of around one metre to prevent them from digging under fences. 

 

Deploying any badger deterrent means that badgers then start to lose out on known territory, to the point where their wider existence in the area could be threatened due to human activity. Badgers are determined and strong animals and will try to use known badger paths and access existing areas as part of their normal behaviour. The ideal solution is that, where possible, the human in the equation looks at altering their behaviour or approach to the situation so that they can learn to coexist with the animal without issue.

 

Finally, it should be remembered that badgers and their setts are protected by law and any interference with them could be a criminal offence. If you have a persistent issue with badgers that you need advice about, please contact your local badger group in the first instance. You can also contact us here at Badger Trust and seek advice from Natural England, which is responsible for licensing any activities relating to badger interventions.

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How flooding impacts the lives of UK badgers

The extent of flooding caused by recent storms could be having a devastating impact on badgers. From loss or damage to badger setts, to difficulties finding food in flood-affected habitats, life will be harder for badger clans throughout the UK. Read more about how flooding impacts the lives of UK badgers.

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We are experiencing more prolonged dry periods with little to no rainfall, which is to be expected as part of a change in our climate. This naturally will have an effect on our native wildlife including our badgers. Read more about how drought impacts the lives of badgers in the UK.

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COVID-19 Guidance for the public and those who regularly feed badgers in their garden

We would like to stress that at present there is no risk of catching COVID-19 from our wildlife – although some domestic pets and mink (in Denmark) have tested positive for the disease. However, it is vital that we do not pass SARS-CoV-2 to badgers and other wildlife. 

General guidance

Please follow our general guidelines if you regularly encounter badgers:

  • If you feel unwell do not go out surveying or feed wild animals.

  • Stay at least 2 metres away from badger setts and other animal dens – if this is not possible, wear a mask. 

If you feed badgers in your garden

Please follow the guidance below to prevent possible transmission of COVID-19 via food and equipment (dishes, etc.):

  • Wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds and use disposable or washable gloves before handling food or equipment

  • Keep any equipment (e.g. dishes, knives, chopping boards) separate to other kitchen equipment and ensure that it is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before and after use. 

  • Where possible, avoid handling food directly – use a scoop or similar and ensure it is cleaned thoroughly and disinfected before and after use and wash fruit or vegetables.

  • Wear a mask when preparing and putting out food

  • Do not feed animals by hand

  • If you come across an injured badger, you should avoid physical contact and call an expert (either your local badger group, wildlife rescue or the RSPCA)  

 

Thank you for considering wildlife and protecting them from any risk of transmission. 


For anyone working with free-ranging wild animals, read our dedicated COVID-19 guidance for groups and see WHSG and OIE guidance.