Badgers are easily distinguished from pretty much anything else you might see. They are the largest member of the Mustelid family (also including otters, stoats and weasels) in the UK. Their fur is silvery grey for the most part, but they have striking black and white markings on their faces, running along their heads from nose to shoulders. Their short legs and stocky build also distinguish them from any other British mammal of a similar size.
65-80cm (26-32in) long, with a 10-20cm (4-8in) tail.
Badgers can be found all across the UK, but are most abundant in southern England.
At present badgers are widespread and not considered endangered, although numbers have been depleted. Badgers are protected under a number of different laws, most recently the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. This consolidates past laws preventing the killing, persecution or trapping of badgers, as well as preventing damage, destruction or obstruction to badger setts, without a licence from Natural England. However they still face a number of threats, notably from road deaths. Another threat to the species is bovine TB, which some badgers carry. This can be spread to cattle, and so has led to a programme of control involving the culling of badgers. There is a great deal of debate over the role of the badger in spreading this disease, as well as over the effectiveness of culling as a control strategy.
Badgers live in setts, networks of underground tunnels and chambers. These are usually located in soft, well-drained soil, and are most commonly dug into slopes in shaded areas such as woodlands. Usually these are quite easy to recognise, as they are used continuously so have large amounts of recently excavated soil outside. Generally a sett will be built in a secluded area; however, if suitable habitat exists near to human populations it may still be used.
At night, when badgers are most active, they range across a wide range of habitats, visiting prime feeding sites. They are a ground foraging species so inhabit areas such as grassland, woodland, and anywhere that there is an abundant source of food upon the ground. They are most likely to be found in areas where a range of different habitats are available, allowing for more varied foraging. Gardens are increasingly used for these purposes.
Badgers are creatures of habit; they tend to visit the same feeding sites regularly, and a family will probably occupy the same sett for many generations. So if badgers are found in an area it is likely that they will be found there again if undisturbed by humans.
Where to find them in the garden
The most likely place to see badgers in a garden is on a well-mown lawn. This provides excellent foraging for earthworms. Indeed the first you may know of badgers in your garden may be claw marks left behind in the morning, where they have been foraging. They can also be found rummaging in compost heaps, munching on berries, such as blackberries, or hunting in long grass and hedgerows. Badgers can make a bit of a mess while foraging, so if you do find that they are making visits to your garden it may be advisable to put up fencing around any pristine flower displays, or seek advice from a local badger conservation group.
Role in the garden
The favourite food of badgers is earthworms, forming a major part of their diet. However they are opportunistic foragers, feeding on small animals, invertebrates, nuts, berries, roots, bulbs and almost anything else of an edible nature. Some gardeners may consider them pests, however they can also be valuable in controlling many pest species as they will generally go for any food source, especially those present in overabundance. It is probably fair to say that their main role in a garden is not an ecological one, but simply the pleasure they bring to the observer.