Scottish Badger Week 2020 - Day 7 Threats
Not the cheeriest of subjects for today’s #ScottishBadgerWeek topic, but nevertheless an important one. We’ll be exploring the threats badgers face in Scotland, and spoiler alert, humans are the main culprit. But why is this, and how?
What threats do badgers face?
The number one issue is humans, but this can be broken down further; loss of habitat, deliberate persecution and road deaths are the main topics we’ll explore.
Photo: A Bantick
Human population has exploded in a couple of generations, and with that comes the associated infrastructure; housing, roads, and land use change, such as increasingly larger fields for growing our food, resulting in hedgerow and woodland removal. As a typically woodland species, badgers have been squeezed in some areas into smaller pockets of land, or in some cases, disappeared entirely. While badgers and their setts have legal protection, their foraging grounds do not, so when new housing developments start chipping away at these areas, it can result in a vastly reduced territory, with a sett marooned in the middle of a totally changed landscape. Badgers are quite adaptable creatures, so newly created lawns on the new housing estate can be well worth a visit for food, even better if there’s several! Unfortunately for badgers, people don’t always take too kindly to the calling card of pockmarked grass from foraging, and so gaps are blocked, higher fences are built, until an impenetrable barrier forms. The way we use land and the intensification of certain industries has accelerated rapidly in mere decades, and not always to the benefit of all.
Without doubt the greatest killer to badgers is roads. Scottish Badgers has had a reporting system for road casualties going back to the mid 2000’s, and every year we have seen a gradual increase in the annual total. In recent years we have exceeded the 1000 mark reported to us, although the real total is likely to be much, much higher. We often see a ‘spring surge’ in these numbers; females are receptive to mating after birth, so there’s a lot of territory marking and patrolling, as well as hungry badgers feeding after their winter torpor. All this movement around a territory almost inevitably takes them across roads, which combined with poor eyesight and a lack of comprehension to human vehicles, can often result in a tragic end. In autumn we see a similar, but smaller spike, as again there is another attempt at mating, and the instinct to feed up again for the winter. In the past, roads were designed to get from A to B in the most efficient way as possible, with little regard for wildlife. Fortunately newer roads now factor in badger territories and the routes that badgers create to get about their territory, and either avoid these, or ensure crossing points are installed, usually under the roads through tunnels combined with ‘badger proof’ fencing.
Badgers have for centuries been subject to persecution, which is why they have their very own bit of legislation in the Protection of Badgers Act, making it illegal to make any attempts to kill or harm a badger, as well as to make any attempts to damage their setts. Unfortunately these attempts are still rife and seem to be showing no signs of abating. As badgers are site faithful and live in these permanent underground structures, it makes them incredibly vulnerable, and means there is an unfortunate high number of ways they can be targeted. Poisoning, gassing, shooting, snaring, dog fighting, suffocation, trapping; all at some point have been recorded. There are then the attempts to damage setts through blocking entrances, felling trees or running machinery over the top of it, building on it, or horrifyingly, pumping slurry into entrances to drown the occupants and plug up the sett.
Photo: Scottish Badgers
There’s then barbaric badger baiting – using dogs to block badgers underground in their setts, while people dig down into the tunnels and chambers to retrieve both animals, usually after several hours. The badger is then generally used to fight with other dogs there at the scene, usually having its’ powerful jaw smashed with a shovel first, or its’ head or back broken to allow the dogs a better chance. Its’ body is then dumped into the dug pit which is filled back in. Sometimes the badger is taken elsewhere to fight. The badger never wins.
For some it’s considered a game, a ‘sport’, who has the best dog to take on one of these powerful wild animals. In recent times we have seen a worrying trend in night-time lamping, high powered torches are taken out into fields and dogs set upon whatever the light picks up. New dog breeds, fast sight hounds crossed with powerful bull breeds, can quickly run down and dispatch badgers. It’s no longer a case of if they can catch a badger, but how many they can kill in a single night.
For others, it’s a deep-rooted prejudice that generations can’t seem to shake off. Badgers are aggressive, blood thirsty, murderous, disease carrying. Badgers are the reason why so many species are in decline. They must be controlled! Species such as hedgehogs, ground nesting birds and bumblebees are all declining, and it seems all too easy to scapegoat the voiceless. Badgers do predate all of these, however they have coevolved over tens, if not hundreds of thousands of years together, so why is it in the past few decades these populations are suddenly under threat, when the badger population has not drastically changed in this time? The pressures facing badgers also face other species, and it is human action only causing such declines. Blaming badgers is as helpful as burying heads in sand to far greater, widespread issues of habitat loss, intensification of agriculture and ecosystem collapse. Badger populations are currently recovering from an incredibly low baseline as a result of years of systematic extermination. Some areas still haven’t recovered.
At Scottish Badgers, we don't consider badgers in isolation but as an intrinsic part of the ecosystem. Through Scottish Environment Link and partnerships with organisations such as Scottish Wildlife Trust, we work together on the bigger picture, with an awareness that no species can be helped in isolation. If you would like to do your part to help end badger persecution and other issues faced by badgers, please consider becoming a member to support our work, donating to help fund our grass roots projects, or learning about finding/monitoring your local badger population and recognising signs of crime by attending one of our training courses.
Emily Platt – Operations Coordinator