The European badger (Meles meles) is a member of the Mustelidae (the weasel and stoat family). It is a widespread and common species in Britain, but it is most numerous in the south and south-west of Britain. Badgers are nocturnal and spend long periods below ground in ‘setts’. They feed largely on invertebrates such as earthworms, beetles and wasps/bees (dug out from underground nests), but their diet also includes other mammals (mice/rats/voles, occasionally hedgehogs), birds (adults and eggs), cereals, fruit, carrion, leaves and fungi (Neal & Cheeseman 1996)1.
In Britain, most badgers live in social groups (sometimes referred to as ‘clans’) and the group jointly defend their territory. Badgers defaecate in small (2-3 cm deep) scrapes called dung pits, and these are often used to mark setts, important feeding areas and territory boundaries (Kruuk 1978)2. In areas where badgers are at low density, and in urban areas where food is over-abundant, territory boundaries can become blurred and are often less vigorously defended (Cresswell & Harris 1988)3.
Setts are commonly constructed in sloping ground (embankments, cuttings), but also appear in flat ground, ditches, drainage pipes and under buildings. A number of setts of different sizes and functions may be found within the range of a single social group (Cresswell et al 1990)4. Since the 1990s when a national survey of badgers was carried out, setts have been routinely classified according to their size and the level of activity associated with each sett (see Section 2.1.2).
Not all groups of badgers have examples of each of the types of setts within their range. However, all social groups of badgers have just one main sett, and so by counting the number of main setts, it is possible to count the number of social groups of badgers present within an area. The number of badgers within a social group can vary between 3 and 15, and so it is not possible to estimate of numbers of badgers from the number of setts.
- Main setts are large, well established, often extensive and in continuous use. It is where the cubs are most likely to be born. There is only one main sett per social group of badgers.
- Annexe setts occur in close association with the main sett, and are linked to the main sett by clear well-used paths. If a second litter of cubs is born, this may be where they are reared.
- Subsidiary setts usually consist of up to five holes, and are not in continuous use.
- Outlying setts consist of one to three holes. They usually have small spoil heaps indicating that they are not very extensive underground
Publications to download
Surveying Badgers HERE
Projects on Badgers HERE
1 Neal E. & Cheeseman C. (1996) Badgers. Poyser, London.
2 Kruuk H. (1989) The social badger: ecology and behaviour of a group-living carnivore (Meles meles). Oxford University Press, Oxford.
3 Cresswell W.J & Harris S. (1988). Foraging behaviour and home-range utilization in a suburban badger (Meles meles) population. Mammal Review 18, 37-49
4 Cresswell P., Harris S., & Jefferies D.J. (1990). The history, distribution, status and habitat requirements of the badger in Britain. Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough