Greenscape Environmental
01743 872900


What is a Badger?


The European Badger (Meles meles) got its name from the French “Becheur”, meaning “digger”. They are part of the Mustelid family, along with Otters, Weasels, Ferrets and Pine Martins, among others. The characteristic black, white and grey colouration of a badger is indicative of its nocturnal lifestyle, where it forages around a wide variety of habitats to find food. It is what’s known as a generalist and opportunistic omnivore, whereby it will feeds on an incredibly diverse range of plants and animals. This includes worms, large insects, carrion, fruit, corn (and other cereal crop - much to the dismay of farmers!) and small mammals.

A badger is a burrowing animal, creating a network of tunnels known as a sett, which can be large enough to house 15 individuals. Such a large sett will have many different entrances, some used more commonly than others, and some completely disused. Being nocturnal, a badger will spend most of the day asleep inside a chamber lined with soft plant matter as a bedding material within this sett. It will then emerge at night to feed.

 How are Badgers Protected?

 The Protection of Badgers Act (1992) is effective in England and Wales (Scotland is different), and makes it an offence to:

  • Wilfully kill injure or take a badger (or attempt to do so)
  • Cruelly ill-treat a badger
  • Dig for a badger
  • Intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy a badger sett, or obstruct access to it
  • Allow a dog to enter a badger sett
  • Disturb a badger whilst it is occupying a sett

 As with all protected species law – there are exceptions and licences can be granted provided adequate justification is provided, in which case a suitably trained ecologist can relocate the badgers to a safe place.


How to Survey for Badgers

 Initial Field Survey

The initial survey will cover up to 1km from the proposed development area. Fence lines, woodlands, scrubby habitats and other suitable habitats will be checked for one of several tell-tale signs:



The presence of setts is often obvious due to the large spoil piles. A sett will be made usually on a slight slope where there is some cover, for example woods and copses.



Badgers typically deposit faeces into latrine pits – small excavations that will be used by more than one individual and do not get covered once used. These are often created along natural boundaries such as field edges and fence lines, and often mark the edge of ‘home range’ of a colony. A badger dropping is usually elongated with no obvious twists or coils (such as those in a fox dropping). Due to the opportunistic and varied diet, the consistency of the fresh dropping will vary greatly. Undigested evidence is frequently visible, and may include beetle elytra (hard wing coverings), other insect remains, fruit stones and muddy deposits (mostly when earthworms have been a main diet source).



Badgers are generally creatures of habit – they will follow the same musk-scented route, night after night. As such these paths get worn down, and can range from a path devoid of large vegetation to subtle tracks in longer grass where the badger has bent the vegetation on passing.



Badgers have a very distinctive footprint, which is often seen in freshly turned earth (such as that at the entrance to their sett). Such signs are also more common after rain, as the ground softens and allows a greater degree of indentation. A badger footprint will display all five toes, each with an un-retractable claw. At the base of each toe is a pad, which often blend into one single wedge-shaped pad in the footprint. Unfortunately due to the badger’s gait, the back print often overlaps the front one, obscuring definitive ID.

Hair Traces

The main hair on a badger’s body is known as a guard hair, and can be found in the spoil at a sett entrance or where badgers push past an obstacle such as brambles, barbed wire or any other obstacle with protrusions that could catch them. A guard hair is very wiry and does not roll smoothly between two fingers due to it having an oval cross section.

Snuffle Holes

As the badger forages for food – much of which is underground – it leaves lots of visible evidence. Where they push their nose into soft soil to grab a tasty treat below the surface, they leave Snuffle Holes. Additionally and more destructively, they are known to use their powerful claws and forearms to tear out turf and soil in large clumps to gain access below.

Scratching Posts

Usually near to sett entrances, badgers often claw at the base of tree trunks, leaving distinctive vertical marks often up to 2-3ft high and right down to ground level. The reasons behind this behaviour are disputed; they may be territorial signs, or just good claw maintenance.


 Activity Surveys


Once a badger sett has been located, it can be identified based on a number of criteria, and then placed into one of four categories:

Identifying a Sett

There are several categories of sett detailed by the Best Practise Guidelines for Badger Surveys.

Main Sett

As the name suggests, this is the primary sett used by the badger colony. It will have several entrances and will be occupied continuously, and will usually have been used by numerous generations of badger. As it is always occupied and used, well-trodden paths will be obvious leading to and from the entrances. Badgers are typically fussy about their setts, and the continual use will result in a large, fresh spoil heap outside the entrances.

Annexe Sett

Usually within 150m of the Main sett, the Annexe setts are very similar to the main setts; often having several entrances and also displaying well-worn paths, however these setts are not continuously occupied.

Subsidiary Sett

Usually within 50m of either a Main or Annexe sett, the Subsidiary sett will generally have less entrances than the previous two types, and will not have well-worn paths connecting it to the other setts. Similarly to the Annexe setts, the Subsidiary setts will not always be in use.

Outlier Sett

These are setts that are potentially far from the Main sett, and may only have one or two entrances. These will generally be created near a seasonal food source, or when the Main sett is crowded with young in Autumn.

Determining Activity

Due to the nature of a multi-entrance badger sett, it is not always clear which entrance will be used, and as such they cannot be easily monitored for activity. Badgers are meticulous at keeping their setts clear and clean, and so a simple method of establishing whether a sett is active or not is to partially obstruct the entrances with loose material that is easily moved by a badger, so as not to contravene the law outlined earlier. Returning after a few nights will reveal if the obstruction has been cleared or not, and allow the categorisation of setts based on the criteria above.

Determining Foraging Range – Bait Marking

Once an active sett has been found, the next question to ask is: will the proposed development affect the resident badgers? It is not always as simple as distance (though a general guide is 50m). In some cases, a survey method known as bait marking is necessary.

Bait marking relies on the latrine habits of the badgers, and the fact that their latrines often mark the edge of the ‘home range’ of a colony. The background idea is intrinsically simple: place food near the active sett (often peanuts and syrup – irresistible to badgers!) which contains harmless, indigestible and brightly coloured plastic beads. These beads will be easily distinguishable from natural faeces contents, and can therefore be used to determine how far the badgers travel from which sett.

There are temporal limitations to this survey method, as there are with several other species specific surveys. The optimal time for bait marking surveys is February to late April, but it can also be done in September to late October. The feeding and latrine checking will need to be conducted daily for a period of three weeks.

Complications can arise with this method, as some males have been known to use setts belonging to different social colonies, but the results must be interpreted by an ecologist with suitable expertise. 


Ben Jones.




Sundorne Landscape

Noxious & Invasive Weeds