Soft Furry Things (Meles meles)

Okay Badgers are not really very soft but you can’t touch them anyway. So who’s to know?

I live very close to badgers. There is a main sett about ten minutes walk from the farm and three outlier setts in the fields that belong to the farm. In fact these fields are our clan’s territory and hunting and foraging ground. I would like to take you around and show you but first let’s look at a badger.

I call this one Old One Eye. He is currently living in one of the outlier setts behind the farm and I only just found that out today.

Yes he has a damaged eye and so I can tell him apart from the others, hopefully it will heal soon.

I call this next one Bright Eyes but he may be more than one badger.

I should really do a post about trail cameras. I use them a lot to spy on animals and to get me information, more on that later.

These are the two animals that I am going to go and spy on tonight, weather permitting.

Let me show you around now but first you must understand something. My badgers are always in danger from people, there is a whole bunch of people that want to kill them.

There are men who would nail Bright Eyes tail to the floor and break his jaw with a shovel before setting dogs on him. It is a sport that they call “Badger Baiting”

There are also men in white coats who want to shoot them. They simply do not respect a native animal that has lived here for centuries and would change that at the passing whim of a politician who will probably find himself sacked very soon. I live in Gloucestershire (The killing fields of England) and despite the failure of pilot culls and DEFRA’s own admission that they were inhumane those culls are to be continued.

So these are the rules. Don’t tell anyone where they are and I will make that easier for you, I will never say where I am.

Badgers are the easiest animals in all of England to track through the forest but the bad fellas can’t find them and that is the way we like it.

Now I am going to tell you all about badgers including how to track them.

We will start at the main sett, it is just up here.

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It runs along the left bank of this path for about one hundred feet. There are multiple entrance holes.

3A sett like this would have served many generations of badger. My landlord has lived here for thirty years and tells me that there has always been a badger sett here. Some setts are more than a hundred years old. (this is a very good reason why they should not be destroyed on the whim of a politician)

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5There were several entrances extending into the field above. The first time that they ploughed that field the badgers just dug the holes open again but when the plough passed over a second time they left them closed. This field will have been ploughed every year and the badgers live with it, it’s not a problem.

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A badgers tunnel is about nine inches high and twelve inches wide, shaped like a “D” on it’s side and between one and half to two meters below ground. A tractor passing overhead wouldn’t disturb it and a sett like this would extend out for hundreds of feet under the field.

6This sett is on a public footpath but it is very little used, it doesn’t really go anywhere and when the crop grows in the field above the badgers will be very well hidden.

So that is the main sett. There is a very good chance that we will have cubs here. I haven’t seen any yet but they should be here. It is a difficult sett to watch though because there is no cover for me in the field above and the badgers have a track running all along the top of the bank. They own this footpath and hiding in it to watch them in the field would be like trying to hide in the sett itself, it won’t work.

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Now we are going out into the fields behind the farm and I will show you some of the signs that badgers leave to tell you where they are and where they have been.

The worst thing that badgers do is make these trails. They make them in woodland and across farm land and they are very easy to follow, sometimes you can just follow such a trail right back to the sett.

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Badgers don’t realise this but bad men could follow these trails. They make them because badgers have scent glands between their toes and at the base of their tail and when they go out to forage they leave a trail of scent that they follow the next time they go out and so they walk exactly the same path night after night. It is not very clever and makes them very easy to follow.

9If you walk along these paths you will find “Snuffle holes.”

10Snuffle holes are little holes in the ground that don’t really go anywhere. Badgers make these holes as they dig for worms.

Earthworms are their main food  although they will eat nuts and berries, bird’s eggs, hedgehogs, anything that they can find. I draw them to my cameras with peanut butter (it is very smelly) and I feed them peanuts and raisins.

A snuffle hole.

11If the ground is soft you might be able to see their prints.

12Badgers have five toes all more or less at the front, dogs and foxes have four toes with two at the front and two set back.

Very often though you don’t see all five toes and it is the long thin claws that tell you it is a badger.

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14You may also find guard hairs, often caught on a fence that a badger has gone under or as in this case cleaned out from a sett.

15Badger guard hairs are about two inches long. They are grey with a silver tip and a black band just beneath that.

16The most unusual thing about them is that they are oval in cross section so if you roll a hair between your fingers it feels bumpy. Badgers are the only native animal with hair like this.

17Then there are toilets and latrines and they are not quite the same thing.

You will find badger toilets fairly close to the sett for convenience. Badgers are the only native animal to dig a pit to deposit their droppings into.

20Actually I think we can forget about droppings and just call that one a pooh.

Latrines are something different. They are a series of toilet pits, laid out on the boundary of the clan’s territory to mark their ownership and tell other badgers to keep out.

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22The social structure of a badger clan is still a bit of a mystery. They live in social groups but unlike most other social animals they don’t hunt or forage together and they don’t defend their territory together. They seem to live quite independent lives despite living together.

Clan membership is very important. Badgers have a very well developed sense of smell I have read eight hundred times better than our own and they can smell a man three days after he has left the area. (I am not sure how people find this stuff out). Badgers scent mark each other and every badger in the clan marks every other badger in the clan, this creates a unique clan scent and they have to keep on doing this because the clan scent wears off quite quickly. When rescue workers take a badger from an area to treat it they have to return it within twenty four hours or the other badgers will not accept it back and may even attack it.

So that is basically it for tracks and signs (scratching posts but I don’t have a recent photo). The other very obvious sign that they leave are outlier setts.

These are setts some distance from the main sett that are only in use some of the time. A badger will move to an outlier sett when the main sett is overcrowded for instance.

This was the first one to appear.

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24This sett is on a path that I regularly walk and is in fact a place where I would often stop and rest and so I know that this sett wasn’t here much earlier than March 10th. That means there won’t be any cubs up in these setts. Badger cubs are nearly all born in February. They have a function known as delayed implantation and regardless of when mating takes place the fertilised egg remains in suspension and doesn’t move down to the uterine wall until mid December and that is when gestation commences. They are born seven weeks later. The peak breeding season is in the spring just after giving birth but regardless of when they breed the cubs will be born in February.

Pity because I can see this sett entrance from my kitchen window.

Well, I have to put my camera right up in the top corner, there are trees in the way.

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26This is the resulting picture.

27Okay it is not particularly good but the sett is half a mile away and it is only a little gap in the hedge. This is good enough for me to monitor day time activity.

I have had my trail camera up there and I know that this sett has been abandoned by the badgers and is now inhabited by a pair of foxes. I believe they have cubs as I have heard them mew but they haven’t started venturing outside yet and foxes are a subject for another post.

There is another outlier sett just along the hedge from this one and this is the most  recent one to appear but I am going to skip past this one because I haven’t properly investigated  it yet and don’t know much about it.

28Outlier setts are quite small affairs with just one or two entrances, this one has just one entrance.

This next one is the one capturing my attention at the moment.

29I had my cameras out there last night and I got some interesting information. The footage isn’t particularly good, I had the camera pointed a bit high and also I have set the 24 hour clock wrong, so the first video wasn’t at nine twenty in the morning and the last wasn’t in the afternoon. This is what I use trail cameras for.

This is what I found out. Bright Eyes and Old One Eye are living together in the same sett and it is this sett. Also that they first emerged from the sett at ten past nine. There was a ten past nine video but it only had a bit of a badgers bum in it so I didn’t show you. this is cool, they are coming out when it is still light and that means that I have a chance of some proper photographs.

Just a few weeks ago they weren’t coming out until an hour after dark but as the nights get shorter their foraging time gets squeezed and then they have to come out in daylight.

The other important information that I got from the second video was that the birds are in full song at half past four and that is when the badgers went back to bed, that was the last video.

I have been up and surveyed the sett twice today looking at where I can hide myself and I had planned to go up tonight and try my luck but it is raining now. That’s okay the nights are still getting shorter, it will be even easier next week.

Well that brings you up to date with the badgers, sorry if I went on a bit. Hopefully you like wild animals because they will be back on this blog soon.  Thanks for reading this. Goodnight.

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