Wildlife Act 1976 / 2000
Bern Convention Appendix III
|Key Identification Features|
Eurasian badgers are a member of the Mustelid family which include weasels and stoats, they are easily distinguished from other Mustelid members in Ireland such as pine martens, Irish stoats, otters and American minks as they are not brown in colouration and sleek in body shape. Instead they have a stocky build with short powerful legs and have a short bushy tail. Body colouration has a mainly grey to sliver tint on the back and sides with two very distinctive black stripes running from the nose to the ears on an otherwise white face. The legs and belly have a black colouration. Badgers have unusual track marks with five long toes and claws lined up parallel to each other giving them a rake like appearance which bend slightly inward. Both front and hind tracks are usually merged as the badger will place its hind feet where it’s front print was located giving a double footprint impression. Badger tracks measure up to 11cm in length and can be up to 6cm wide. Male badgers are called boars and are slightly larger and heavier than the females. Male adults can weigh up to 18kg when fully grown and are at their heaviest during the autumn months. Head and body length on average reaches up to 90cm with a 20cm long tail. When on the move around their territories badgers will use a slow trotting motion with their bodies held low to the ground, they will regularly stop and raise their heads to sniff the air and when alarmed can gallop to cover quite fast, they are not good climbers but can swim well. The badger’s eyesight is poor over long distances but works well in low light levels and in darkness. Visual signs are not used between individuals but scent information and vocal communications are. Vocal calls range from purring and panting to growling and grunting. Hearing and smell are the main senses used by the badger to locate food.
Badger habitats are generally found in areas of deciduous or mixed woodlands which are near farmland or open ground. They have made good use of hedgerow systems in Ireland and have also adapted to life in parks and large gardens. They will establish their dens known as setts in any area where the soil is dry and allows for easy excavation. They generally do not range above 500 meters altitude and prefer sloping land areas close to pastures or clearings. The badger’s powerful front claws are used to dig extensive systems of tunnels and chambers for their underground setts. Each territory will usually have one main sett with a number of smaller setts nearby. A sett will be comprised of a main nesting chamber ten meters from the main entrance and around three meters below ground level with connections to smaller bed-chambers and links to numerous entrances and emergency exists. A sett will be maintained and extended over time and can house several family groups which can remain in use for several generations of badger families. The main sett entrances are regularly marked with spoil heaps of excavated soil, old bedding materials or straw and dried vegetation. Pathways are regularly used along a badger’s territory with a series of boundary latrines established to mark territorial ranges.
|Food and Feeding Habits|
Badgers can be described as nocturnal omnivores spending most of their time underground in their large setts. They generally emerge at dusk and will remain active above ground until dawn, in summer time they occasionally become active before dark. They eat a wide variety of food so they do not generally have to travel large distances while foraging and on average will not wander more than 5km from the sett. They hunt using hearing and smell along well used tracks usually foraging alone. The staple of the badger’s diet consists of earthworms practically when they come to the surface on wet nights in spring and early summer. They can be described as opportunistic feeders and will consume a variety of smaller mammals such as mice, rats, rabbits, hedgehogs and voles. Insects which are preferred by the badger include beetles, snails, slugs and cockchafers. Frogs and frogspawn are eaten when they are available as are small birds and bird eggs. Vegetation such as blackberries, apples, cereals, fungi and roots are also consumed when seasonally available. They will eat carrion if they find any recently deceased animals within their territories. Fish species are the only food type not actively hunted by badgers in Ireland. By autumn time the badger must have developed a thick layer of fat deposits as they enter a period of dormancy known as a false hibernation during cold winters. They do not hibernate like bear species but become torpid to conserve energy, for this reason badgers will gorge themselves when food sources are abundant weighing their heaviest in the autumn. Badgers are known to forage in all habitat types in Ireland from the coast to mountainous areas.
|Reproduction and Life Cycle|
Badgers will breed annually with the mating season usually beginning in February and running until May. Male aggression and territorial behavior will increase as a result from February onward. Each sett will contain one dominant male who is the most likely to successfully breed but other males from neighboring setts may find an opportunity to mate with younger females. Ovulation in females occurs as a response to mating with the delayed implantation of the fertilized egg to the womb wall occurring which is common for species of the Mustelid family. Once it begins the period of true gestation will be completed in two months. The expectant mother will clean out a new birthing chamber and line it with dried vegetation. Births usually begin in February and March with litter sizes varying from one to five young but two or three cubs is the average number. Cubs are born blind with a pale grey fur and generally weigh around 100 grams. By the age of one month the cubs will have opened their eyes and may continue to suckle for up to three months. They will begin to venture out of the sett by the age of two months and should become independent of their mothers by the summer’s end but in some cases they will remain with their mother over the winter period. Females will usually remain at the sett in which they were born with males leaving to establish territories of their own. Males will reach sexual maturity by the age of two with females taking only one year to reach this stage of development.
The Eurasian badger species range from Western Europe eastward to Asia Minor and to the temperate regions of China. They are absent from northern Scandinavia, the Mediterranean islands and from northern Scotland. It is believed they first originated in central Asia half a million years ago and had spread west to Britain 250,000 years later. They most likely arrived in Ireland 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age when Ireland and Britain were still linked by a land bridge. They are now present in all counties from coastal zones to mountainous habitats. It has been estimated there could be as many as 250,000 individual badgers in Ireland divided into 50,000 occupied setts composed of family groups. Where the local soil type is suitable they have now spread to the outskirts of urban areas often lured by the presence of squirrel and bird feeders in gardens and parks. They can remain in setts that are close to human settlements so long as they are not overly disturbed. A change to less intensive agriculture and an increase in aforestation would help the badger population remain at its high level in Ireland.
Badgers as a species do little harm to cereal crops and other animals in Ireland, they are effective pest controllers as they reduce rodent numbers and destroy wasp nests. They may cause TB outbreaks in cattle herds, although they can carry the tuberculosis bacterium, cases of cross species infection is less common since the 1990’s. They have no natural predator in Ireland with man still causing the highest number of badger kills. Badger baiting still occurs in some areas where sett exits are blocked, smoke or dogs are released into the entrance forcing the badger to come to the surface where they are killed. Accidental road kills account for a large number of badger deaths each year with the same locations seeing regular collisions with traffic as the badger will use the same pathway to cross roads in its territories, the numbers of badger road kills increase in the spring as this is the time that young badgers leave the sett to establish new territories. The Eurasian badger has been given legal protection under the Wildlife Act and is listed in Appendix III of the Bern convention as a species in need of protection.