Many animals live in holes in the ground, each leaving distinctive clues at the scene to give away their identity. Holes vary greatly in size and shape and, although some ore occupied permanently, others are only used on a temporary basis. Often when one species is not in occupation another is. This occurs commonly with badger setts. Each badger clan will have a series of setts of differing sizes within its territory which may be used at different times. This may seem a little complicated but the important thing is to establish whether the structure you are looking at is a badger sett, and if so whether it is occupied. With a little practice badger setts can be quickly identified and their occupancy established.
Systematically cover all the ground in the area you are surveying and look for any of the signs detailed in the field notes below. Pay particular attention to woodlands, hedgerows, field edges and glens. Record the location of signs you find and you will gradually build up a picture of where your badgers live, play and forage.
Badger Sett Holes
These are oval (a little like the letter D lain on its side) reflecting the badger’s bulky, low slung shape. They measure between 250 to 300mm wide. There is often a substantial pile of earth called a spoil heap just outside the hole. This spoil heap can contain badger hairs and discarded vegetation which has been used as bedding within the sett.
Guard hairs are the thick hairs that cover the badger’s body and give it its colouring. They are a dirty white with a silver tip and a dark band approximately 10mm wide just below it. They are extremely distinctive in their structure being around 70mm long, oval in cross section and coarse, almost wiry, in texture. The tell-tail, oval shape is evident when the hairs are rolled between the finger and thumb. No other mammal found naturally in the wild in Britain has guard hair that fells like this. Guard hairs are frequently found in spoil heaps or caught on barbed wire or brambles where badgers have passed through.
Badgers are the only animals in Britain to use an open dung pit in which to deposit their droppings. Where a number of these small, shallow holes occur together they are known as a latrine. The droppings are usually of a uniform texture, dark green or black in colour and smelling faintly chemically, although this can vary depending on the diet. Latrines are often found near setts and at various strategic places around the clan boundary to act as a “No Trespassing” sign for badgers from neighbouring groups.
Scratch marks may be found on a dead tree or an Elder near the sett. This is where badgers have stretched their tendons at the start of the evening. There may be a marking purpose too as badgers have scent glands between their toes.
Depending on the hardness of the ground over which they are moving badgers may leave foot prints. These are very distinctive, having five toes with very distinctive claw marks at the end, and a central pad shaped rather like a kidney. Be aware that when they are walking badgers often place the rear foot on very close to the mark made by the fore foot resulting in a partially obscured or “registered” print.
Snuffle holes in the ground where they have dug up roots, destroyed cow pats which have been scattered to get at the grubs and dug out wasp nests are just some of the signs that badgers leave on the landscape.
Badgers have an acute sense of smell, so stick to surveying earlier in the day to give your scent a chance to dissipate and cause less disturbance to emerging badgers in the evening. Likewise surveying earlier on in the day will ensure there’s no risk of badgers emerging while you’re out doing checks.
If you often visit different woodlands and/or agricultural areas, be aware of the risk of different types of diseases that can be picked up on equipment such as boots. Guidance can be sought regarding agricultural biosecurity here, and tree diseases here.
Badger setts can be found in areas where invasive plant species are present. Please take the time to learn how to recognise these species and ensure your equipment including boots are thoroughly cleaned after being in areas where these are present.