Few mammals evoke such a sense of mystery as the badger with its secretive and nocturnal habits. Trundling nose-down across the crunchy leaf-strewn woodland floor by night, and snoozing deep inside its underground lair (sett) for most of the day, the badger is a beguiling creature.

Many people are familiar with the iconic Badger in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows and the bumbling Tommy Brock from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mr Tod, yet few of us have ever actually seen one.

Grahame painted a picture of the badger as a lovable wise hermit with benevolent qualities, while Potter’s writing depicts a creature that is “not nice in his habits”.

These contrasting portrayals convey the divide in the public’s opinion of the species.

Badgers spend much of their time beetling about for worms and other insects. An ideal territory combines pasture and arable fields adjacent to deciduous woodland. Collectively these provide a year-round food supply, with woodland also offering shelter.

Badgers favour undulating landscapes for sett excavation, as tunnels are less likely to become waterlogged. Many Berks, Bucks and Oxon (BBOWT) nature reserves support healthy populations of badgers, with Chimney Meadows being a particularly good example of one characterised by a patchwork of suitable habitats.

In addition to their diet of invertebrates, cereals and fruit, badgers have an appetite for the occasional bird or mammal, including hedgehogs.

The hedgehog’s recent dramatic decline has led some to point the finger at badgers, but there is limited evidence that they are the key culprit.

Other factors such as habitat loss and pesticide use are far more likely causes. Badgers and hedgehogs have co-existed for thousands of years, and hedgehogs continue to decline in areas with few badgers. Where conditions are favourable both animals can and do live alongside each other.

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Another controversial topic concerning badgers is the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). In 1971 badgers were identified as a reservoir for the disease, and following two culling trials, badger culling began in 2013 in an attempt to reduce bTB incidence in cattle.

BBOWT recognises the importance of controlling bTB, but strongly opposes badger culling since it is inhumane, costly and ineffective. Instead, we promote badger vaccination as a better solution, and have been administering vaccines since 2014 under the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme funded by DEFRA.

The trust currently vaccinates at priority nature reserves in Oxfordshire and across around 20 km2 of land in West Berkshire. We install cameras at vaccination sites to estimate badger densities, and thus ensure that we are vaccinating well over the threshold required for a “herd immunity” effect in unvaccinated individuals, such as cubs.

Badgers rarely display symptoms of bTB itself.

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BBOWT is committed to working with farmers to eradicate bTB through the vaccination scheme, in turn protecting the majestic badger from the alternative fate of culling. Backed by a wealth of evidence, we strongly believe that badger vaccination is the more effective, humane and financially sustainable solution, together with biosecurity measures and rigorous cattle bTB testing regimes.

We are not working alone – other wildlife trusts such as Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire manage vaccination programmes, and local badger groups have recently applied for funding to set up their own schemes in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.

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Badger facts

• The Eurasian badger is a member of the mustelid family; however, Linnaeus (the Swedish naturalist and grandfather of taxonomy) believed it to be a species of bear.

Admittedly, there is something rather bear-like about the badger with its bumbling gait, shaggy coat and long snout and claws.

• Female badgers (sows) can delay implantation of fertilised eggs for several months (i.e. from April until December).

This clever strategy times birth for late winter, thus resulting in cubs first emerging from the sett in the Spring, when environmental conditions are favourable, and food is plentiful.

• The badger’s muscular forelimbs and elongated claws are so well adapted for digging that they enable the movement of rocks more than twice its own body weight i.e. around 20kg.

• Badger setts are often handed down from one generation to the next, with the oldest recorded sett estimated to have had 475 years of continuous occupation!

• Not all badgers come in the typical black and white form.

Some individuals may appear entirely black, completely white or tan as a result of genetic mutations. For example, Essex and Kent are home to populations of white individuals.

Badgers in numbers:

55: Badgers vaccinated by BBOWT in 2018.

67,000: Badgers culled in England since 2013, costing the government over £50m of public funds. 32,000 badgers were killed in 2018 alone.

1 in 20: Proportion of cattle bTB herd infections arising from badgers. Cattle to cattle bTB transmission is far more likely to occur.

Lucy Stoddart is a mammal project field officer at the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust