About badgers (Meles meles)

The European badger (Meles meles) also known as the Eurasian badger or simply badger is a powerfully built black, white, brown and grey animal with a small head, a stocky body, small black eyes and short tail. It is nocturnal and is a social, burrowing animal that sleeps during the day in one of several ‘setts’ in its territorial range. A member of the mustelid family (which includes pine martens, otters, polecats, ferrets and the wolverine), the European badger’s range extends from Britain, across Europe and to the middle east. The badger is one of the most renowned and popular mammals in the UK and is a living symbol of the British countryside.

Badger behaviour

The earliest traces of badgers in Britain date back to three quarters to half a million years ago, meaning badgers once coexisted with wolves, brown bears, Arctic foxes and wolverines, all of which once roamed Britain!

Badger setts are extensive networks of underground passages and chambers. Badger setts vary from occasionally used  “outliers” – with frequently single entranced tunnels – to large, ancient underground complexes with multiple entrances. These larger setts can extend from 20 to 100 metres or more, with some of the largest having more than 50 entrances! Such elaborate setts can take many years to create and are passed down through generations – some setts can be more than 100 years old. These are the family homes, used, maintained and enlarged at will by generations of the same social group. In the UK, badgers live in mixed-sex groups of between four and eight animals in underground ‘setts’. A social group living together in the same sett is also known as a ‘clan’. Although badgers tend to live in groups, they don’t always cooperate with other members of their clan. Badgers are thus unique; as individuals in a clan they can happily forage and feed themselves, unlike other social groups of animals, who hunt together and reap the benefits as a group.

Badgers are very fussy over the cleanliness of their setts, carrying in fresh bedding and removing soiled material, and they defecate in latrines strategically situated around their territories

Diet

The diet of a badger is extremely varied, with badgers being described by expert Professor Tim Roper as “opportunistic omnivores”. Earthworms are at the heart of the diet of the badger, often up to 60 percent. In one night, an adult badger can eat more than 200 worms! Badgers will occasionally eat hedgehogs if normal prey items are not abundant. Usually, if the conditions are severe (hard frost, dry or barren habitat areas), worms may be rare. Badgers can intelligently move to other food items, including snails, slugs and soft fruits such as raspberries and blackberries.

Badgers have lived side by side with hedgehogs for centuries, but occasionally they will prey on them if their main sources of worms and grubs are not plentiful. Hedgehogs are currently experiencing a sharp decline in rural habitats and badgers are frequently blamed unfairly. A 2018 report on the decline of hedgehogs noted it was mainly due to the loss of habitat by intensifying agriculture and fewer hedgerows.  This reduction in habitat is more likely to affect badgers too. More work is needed to preserve natural habitats and restore a balanced ecosystem for all specie. This is where you can help us help them.