Wildlife protected by the Hunting Act: Badgers & Other Mammals
Badgers are are an unmistakable animal with their familiar black and white-striped face. They are large and grey, with a short fluffy tail, black belly and paws.
The Badger is our biggest land predator, a member of the Mustelid family and related to Stoats, Weasels and Otters. The Badger is just as common as the Red Fox, but more nocturnal and elusive in its habits, and rarely seen during the day.
A badger’s average lifespan is 3 years but they can live up to 14 years in the wild.
Habitat and Range
- Badgers are found throughout England, Wales, most of Scotland except for the far north, and Northern Ireland. Absent from Scottish Islands, the Isle of Man, the Isles of Scilly and the Channel Islands in; farmland, grassland, heathland, woodland, towns and gardens.
- Badgers live in large family groups in a burrow system known as a ‘sett’. An occupied sett can be recognised by the tidy burrow entrances, marked with piles of used bedding (hay and leaves), and by nearby latrine pits where they leave their droppings.
Diet and Feeding
- Badgers feed on small mammals, ground-nesting birds eggs, earthworms, fruit and roots and bulbs, which they dig up with their strong front paws.
- Although Badgers exploit a wide variety of food items, earthworms form the majority of the diet.
- Mating takes place between February and May, with implantation delayed until late winter. Only one female badger in a social group normally breeds, although sometimes two or more may do so.
- Badger litters of 2-3 cubs are born in January or February, blind and hairless in the safety of the nest. They spend the first two or three months underground, only emerging in the spring. By late summer they are usually feeding independently but can be adversely affected by drought at this time causing starvation.
Status and Threats
- In 1988 there were estimated to be around 42,000 social groups of badgers, and just under 200,000 adult badgers. By 1997 this had risen to just over 50,000 social groups and 310,000 adult badgers. The population is now probably stable.
- Mortality is high, with around one-fifth of adults dying each year. Road traffic accidents are a major cause of death.
- Some badgers are infected with bovine tuberculosis, particularly in the south west of England. These animals are the subject of a control campaign by Defra. There is a continuing debate about the role of badgers and cattle infecting each other with TB.
Conservation Status and Public Opinion on Badger Baiting
Badgers are fully protected in the UK by the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992, and the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 consolidates past badger legislation and, in addition to protecting the badger itself from being killed, persecuted or trapped, makes it an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct badger setts. Where badgers pose a problem, licences can be issued to permit certain activities.
Badger baiting (using dogs to fight badgers) has been outlawed since 1835. The Badgers Act 1973 afforded limited protection against badger digging, and was finally outlawed in 1981. About 80 local groups have been formed by enthusiasts wishing to protect and study badgers. Their activities include protecting badgers from diggers and baiters by reinforcing setts, helping with care and rehabilitation of injured badgers, having tunnels and badger proof fencing added to new road schemes and giving developers advice about setts.
Hunting badgers and most wild mammals with dogs is illegal in the UK on animal welfare grounds.
Information provided by the The Mammal Society and The Wildlife Trusts
The Badger Cull Debate
Badgers are currently under close scrutiny as carriers and transmitters of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) – a disease that affects our cattle. There are calls to cull badgers in areas where bTB is prevalent. But leading and respected conservation organisations including The Wildlife Trusts believe that the scientific evidence available does not support a cull (it would not decrease incidences of bTB transmission from badgers to cattle, but would simply disperse badger populations to the detriment of the countryside) and are urging for vaccinations against bTB to be the way forward.
An already very popular wild animal in the British public’s hearts, the badger cull threat has caused an uproar with an estimated 80% of the public being against a cull, which has arguably resulted in the humble badger being even more popular and well loved than ever.
Other Mammals protected by the Hunting Act
It is illegal to hunt most wild mammals with dogs, including; Foxes, Deer, Hare, Mink, Stoats, Weasels, Otters, Polecats, Pine Martins, Voles and Moles.
Reporting Wildlife Crime
The best way to report badger baiting or illegal hunting including suspicious hunting behaviour is to call the Police Wildlife Crimeline on 101.
Further Reading & Useful Links
Badger Habitats and How to Identify
Simon King Wildlife: Badger Fox Feeder Live Web Cam
The Badger Trust
Care for the Wild – Why the Badger Cull is Wrong
RSPCA Campaign to Stop the Badger Cull
The Wildlife Trust’s Badger Vaccination Scheme
Birders Against Wildlife Crime: Badgers