BADGER (meles meles)
There are several active badger setts within Pondhead although the chances of seeing these secretive nocturnal mammals are remote.
The badger belongs to the weasel family which includes the otter, stoat, polecat, ferret and pine marten. A male badger is a boar, a female a sow and a young badger is a cub. They can grow to one metre long and are short and stout. Badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 although controversial badger culls are in operation in some areas.
They are nocturnal, quite elusive and spend much of their life underground during daylight periods in a network of tunnels known as “setts”. There is a common misconception that badgers hibernate but this is not the case although they do conserve their energy and body weight during winter months when their normal diet is less plentiful. Their weight is at a maximum in the autumn as they build up reserves to see them through the winter when food is in short supply.
Badgers are omnivorous and will eat a wide variety of foods, although their main diet consists of earthworms – up to 200 per day. However, the poor soil conditions of the New Forest is not conducive to a plentiful supply of earthworms and as a consequence, the density of badges in the Forest is slightly lower than in other areas. They take snails and slugs to compensate for the deficiencies in their preferred diet and also eat fruits and cereals.
Their eyesight is poor and lacking in colour vision. Whilst they cannot see details very well, they can make out shapes, and movements. Despite their small ears their hearing is quite acute and they are well able to detect quiet sounds and also determine which ones are of concern from those which are not.
Badgers live in territorial groups called clans (also referred to as social groups) consisting of a number of badgers and together they occupy and defend a territory against neighbouring badgers. Their setts tend to be handed down from generation to generation and can extend to 50 metres underground. A clan will typically have one main sett which can hold any number of badgers, from the more usual five or six, to 10 or more, and occasionally as many as 20 in the larger complexes. Main setts often change in size and shape as badgers dig new tunnels and chambers. One year’s busy entrance with soil worn smooth by the passage of many paws can be next year’s debris-blocked, disused entrance.
A main sett will be in continual use and is apparent by well-worn paths to and from the sett. Several entrances will have evidence of excavation apparent by large heaps of freshly thrown out spoil. Badgers also use subsidiary setts from time to time which are normally a little further from the main setts but are generally not in constant use. Disused setts often provide foxes with a ready-made den in which they will raise their young. Foxes will also set up home in an inactive part of a large sett.
Badger cubs are normally born in early/mid February and the number of cubs is usually between one and five. Cubs emerge late April/early May after spending the first 8-10 weeks underground. Many badgers die in their first year of life. In fact, out of every three badger cubs born, two will die before they become one year old. Those cubs who survive to become adults have a good chance of living for several years. Many will go on to ages of between five and eight years old before they die. Very few wild badgers live to be 15 which they are capable of achieving in captivity.
The following short video taken with an infra red camera in Pondhead provides a view of their nocturnal activities. Their keen sense of smell is clearly evident by the manner in which they constantly sniff the air. The sense of smell is the most important of the badgers senses. It is thought that the badger’s sense of smell is 700 to 800 times better than ours! This means that badgers can smell many things that we cannot. They use their sense of smell to find their way around, and to find food. Badgers also recognise each other by smell.