2016 Badger near its sett in the forest ©byrdyak
How Drought Impacts the Lives of Badgers in the UK
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, which are the focus of this article.
What effect does dry weather have on badgers?
April and May 2020 have been particularly dry and the ground is rock hard, and the last few Julys have been dry too.
Let us look at what badgers are doing in April and May: badgers are coming out of a period of cub rearing where, by now, all badger cubs will be above ground and weaned of the sow’s milk. This means sows – often in poor condition after the lactation stage – are beginning to try to put on more weight and venture further for food with the cubs after a period of spending more time around the breeding sett. Whilst the other subordinate females will be with the dominant sow, some may have gone off to annexe setts to give birth themselves. The boars and, in particular, young boars may be welcomed back to the natural sett about now after being persuaded to leave prior to cub birthing (from December to March).
Badgers spend time above ground each evening principally looking for insects, slugs, beetles and invertebrates, but when seasonally available, bulbs, combined with berries, fruits, nuts, cereal, small mammals and amphibians, as presented.
I have always said a badger will sniff something it comes across and eat it or just walk on by.
Now we know the favoured badger food is earthworms, but when the ground gets this dry, worms go into a state of torpor called ‘estivation’ and, owing to the ground conditions, are impossible to come by unless major ground disturbance occurs.
With worms off the menu, what else can Brock eat?
Well badgers have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and are survivors; they adapt, and they call upon their unique sense of smell to nose out new culinary opportunities. An example of this is when badgers locate and dig out ground nests of bees or wasps and eat the larvae. This can be done quickly by a badger at night and with skill and strong skin, dormant bees will not sting.
Another food source located by smell is rabbit kits, with a nest of rabbits located by digging from the top down as badgers will sniff the nest chamber directly above and dig, whereas foxes will dig rather messily from the entrance the rabbits use. Look for this next time you see a pile of rabbit fur at a breached warren.
Fallen dead wood, trunks and branches are also utilised by badgers, they break open the bark layers and eat the grubs contained within.
Damage to lawns and sports pitches can also be observed at times of drought where badgers search out cockchafer beetle (May bug) larva and those of the Leather Jacket (Cranefly). The damage is often done to the grass already by the grubs eating the grass root structure before the badgers snuffle them out. This is easily fixed by removing the grubs by raking, scarifying the dead moss and thatch, and applying some nematodes.
Why do we see badgers in daylight during drought?
During drought badgers may be seen more often in the daylight as their quest for food takes them out at times they may normally be sleeping. It can also be uncomfortable underground for badgers and day nests are frequently used; this is where badgers lay up on bedding under a hedge, tree or similar, and this can sometimes be in a garden or under a shed, your compost heap or down an alley. The best thing is to leave the badger alone as it will go when it is ready, that night in most cases.
Do we feed badgers or not in dry weather?
This is a personal preference and up to the individual. All I would say is, if you are leaving food out for badgers please make it as natural as possible – fruit, nuts, no sugars or sweeteners – and always provide a source of fresh water too in the shade. Remember, providing food for any wild animal is a balance; supplementary feeding should be just that and animals should not be made reliant on this alternative food source.
How much water does a badger need?
Badgers do not require as much water as you would expect for a large mammal as they get moisture from the food they eat, but fresh water sources in your gardens will benefit any garden visitor of feather or fur variety.
Dead wood broken open by badgers for grubs in drought conditions - Badger Trust ©Tris Pearce
We would love to hear your badger stories, so get in touch with Badger Trust.
If you are concerned about a badger, please report it to Badger Trust here or contact a badger group local to you – you can locate your nearest Badger Trust affiliated group using our badger groups map here.
Please remember the Badger Trust is a charity and any support or donation you can pledge would be wonderful.
Author: Tris Pearce MCIEEM MRSB, Director/Trustee, Badger Trust