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How to protect badgers and their setts during development work

With their distinctive black and white markings, badgers are one of the most recognised creatures in the UK, and are usually found in woodland and open countryside. In England and Wales, they’re protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and a separate Protection of Badgers Act in Scotland, making it illegal to kill, harm or disturb badgers, including the destruction or blockage of their setts.

Badgers enjoy a diet of earthworms, but will also eat other insects, rodents and rabbits, as well as fruit and bulbs. Sadly, badgers have been the frequent target of cruelty such as badger baiting and sett digging, and the Protection of Badgers Acts have been put in place partly to stop these activities, as well as protecting the badgers’ habitat.

If your development is on land which may be home to badgers, it’s important to take steps to protect them.

How do I know where badgers are present?

Badgers live in groups of around 4-7 in setts, but what constitutes a sett isn’t as black and white as the creatures themselves. It includes any area in which badgers may be present, including anything they might use for shelter or refuge:

  • Among hay bales
  • Rocks and boulders
  • Under hedges or bushes
  • Under sheds and raised buildings

It also includes the network of tunnels and chambers underground that we normally associate with badgers, and the entrance and exit areas.

To determine if setts are active, you will need to arrange a survey from a licenced specialist ecologist. They will be able to look for signs of activity such as sett entrances, footprints, scratching posts and signs of badgers scratching for food. The surveys can take place at any time of year, but ideally should be carried out in early spring or late autumn, when the badgers are more active but there is less vegetation around to hide the signs of their residence.

As badgers are nocturnal and avoid humans, you may not be aware of them living near you until a surveyor spots the tell-tale signs.

Setts need to be monitored over a period of time (typically around 4 weeks) to get a full picture of the badger activity in the area. Your surveyor may also use sand traps to capture footprints, place tape in strategic places to catch badger hair or set up cameras.

It might also be necessary to carry out bait marking if it looks like there is more than one group of badgers in the area or to see if a particular group uses more than one sett. Bait marking involves putting coloured plastic markers (of a special size and shape) in food and then monitoring latrine sites to see how far the badgers travel.

This helps to define territory boundaries and gives an indication of any alternative sites the badgers use, or where an artificial sett could be placed, if damaging or destroying a sett is unavoidable during the course of development work. Badgers are incredibly territorial, so it’s important they’re not forced into the territory of another group. With huge amounts of strength and large, non-retractable claws, badgers can cause severe injuries to each other if they come into conflict.

What if there are badgers living on the site?

If there are badgers active on or near the site of your development, your ecological expert will be able to advise you. Measures can range from avoiding disturbance, to putting mitigations in place and compensating for any damage caused. This could range from limiting work with heavy machinery to certain times of day or certain areas to avoid disturbing the badgers, to creating badger tunnels to allow them to navigate new roads safely, or even creating new setts for badgers to move into so the old sett can be closed down.

Anything involving closing down a sett or interrupting the normal patterns of the badgers must be done by someone with the appropriate licences. As well as having extensive knowledge about badger behaviour, they will know the specific times of year when particular activities can be carried out and how to carry out development work with the least possible disturbance.

As mentioned before, badgers cannot be removed from their setts, so there are a number of things a licenced ecologist can do to encourage the badgers to move to another sett and ensure they don’t try to reoccupy a sett once it is empty. If anyone else tries to do this, they will be breaking the law.

If your land would be a good spot for badgers, it’s important to make sure there are none in the area before you start any work. By working with an expert ecologist, you will be aware of badgers from the outset and will be able to take into account any measures needed to protect them at an early stage.

To discuss how we can help you identify badger setts and put together the reports and mitigations you’ll need in a planning application, get in touch. Call us on 01225 459564 or email enquiries@engain.com

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