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Badgers - disturbance at badger setts by people, cats, dogs (and passing foxes)

Under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, in England and Wales (the law is different in Scotland) it is an offence to intentionally interfere with badgers or their setts, although innocent disturbance caused by passers-by; careful, caring photographers; and those completely unaware of the presence of a sett is, however, another thing altogether. And so is disturbance caused without undue malice by cats and passing dogs.

The badgers' reaction to any sort of disturbance, however caused, is, though, likely to vary - it all depends upon what they're used to, and, of course, will also reflect the thought processes of often idiosyncratic, individual badgers.

I watch at a sett, for example, where the landowner's large, boisterous free-ranging dogs are regular evening visitors to the vicinity of the sett. The badgers aren't the dogs' best buddies by any means, but after scuttling underground on the madcap approach of one or other of their canine visitors, it doesn't take long for the badgers to re-appear after the danger has passed.

Conversely, at another sett that is rarely exposed to dogs, the badgers after a doggy visit are more likely to remain underground for considerably longer.

Similarly, at regularly well-watched setts, the badgers will sometimes become at least a little accustomed to the presence of quiet, unobtrusive people, and may be less inclined to rush for home than at setts where people rarely visit; and if the badgers do go underground, there's always a likelihood that they'll relatively quickly re-appear.

But at setts subject to regular, high-level evening disturbance from passers-by or dog walkers, badger emergence will often be delayed until considerably after the disturbance ceases, and even then, the badgers will tend to leave the area of the sett fairly quickly and not hang around to groom or play.

(1) The photographer and the cat - 4.02 minutes

This woodland sett is infrequently disturbed by people. The badger shown here first emerged a little before 7.00pm on this bright May evening, and contentedly pottered about the sett. At 7.39, however, the animal sensed danger and hurried back underground - notice the movement of tell-tale shadows at the top left of the picture.

At 7.40, a photographer appeared in view and moments later the badger took a cautious peek from the sett entrance - the entrance is below normal ground level so at first the badger was unaware of the intrusion. The photographer, too, at first seemed unaware that the badger was peeping out but then crouched down to take a picture.

The badger warily sniffed the air as the photographer moved around to obtain a better view, but found nothing too amiss and fully emerged. Then what sounds like the distant bark of a roe deer further unsettled the animal and it unceremoniously dashed underground, not to re-appear for almost one hour. What happened to the photographer during this time is anybodies' guess.

A mere minute after the badger reappeared, a huge black cat passed across the sett, encouraged on its way by the badger - largely hidden behind the fallen tree trunk.

And so after a number of false starts, the badger could at last go about its business unmolested.

(2) Badgers, a dog walker and a fox - 1.29 minutes

This video sequence was shot at an extensive badgers' sett that is crossed by a number of fairly well-used public footpaths. The sett has been present for many years so it is clear that walkers on the paths have not forced the badgers to abandon their home, although first emergence is usually delayed until after dark.

Here a dog walker passes the sett at dusk whilst the badgers do not appear until over one hour later, emerging well after dark whereas at undisturbed setts they would probably have emerged even before the dog walker went by.

Then as if to emphasise the varied nature of the visitors to this woodland sett, a fox explores the tunnel entrance a little after dawn, well after the badgers have turned in for the day.

(3) Badgers and an inquisitive dog

Here, at the same relatively undisturbed woodland sett shown in (1) above, at the very start of the video the first badger was seen at 7.18pm as it briefly peered out of the sett entrance, but for whatever reason, it thought better of emerging and quickly backed underground - presumably it spotted, or picked up the scent of, something or someone that caused alarm.

It had not re-emerged when, over one hour later, at 8.22, a large, inquisitive dog ran around the sett and eventually peered into the tunnel entrance. The dog, presumably accompanied by an unseen walker, quickly went on its way but the badger was not seen again until 9.36pm.

It disappeared into the sett entrance previously disturbed by the dog and, with the danger past, encouraged two cubs to emerge, which they duly did.

(4) Two badgers and a dog

Since 8.34pm, three badgers had been out in this field adjacent to their sett, but by 8.56, only one remained and that one nervously sniffed the air before heading back in the direction of the sett. The badger's senses were good, for three large dogs were on the prowl, one of which first appeared in front of the camera eight minutes later.

The dog didn't stay long, however, and by 9.11 two badgers were back in view.

(This sett area is regularly visited by these dogs, out for their last walk of the day. They mean the badgers no harm, and the badgers seem to know this, although one of the badgers here still appears to be a little wary even after the intruder has moved away).

Further information and a variety of fascinating badger videos

Badgers - a general introduction
Badger field signs - look out for evidence of badger presence in the countryside
Badger watching - a guide to watching badgers
Badger behaviour - an introduction to a series of badger behaviour videos, mostly shot in the New Forest, and lots more information about badgers
Badger's setts - situation, size, tunnelling and excavation (videos)
Emergence from the sett - times of emergence and factors influencing variation (videos)
Grooming and mutual grooming - badgers grooming themselves and each other (videos)
Scent marking - badgers scent marking their nearest and dearest, and also their territory (videos)
Badger bedding - essential comfort for a good day's sleep (videos)
Play fighting amongst the cubs - high jinks by the sett, but also preparation for later life (videos)
Badger fights / badgers fighting - potentially vicious affairs (videos)
Badgers and foxes together - an often uncomfortable relationship (videos)
Disturbance at badger setts - by people, cats, dogs and passing foxes (videos)
Other animals in the sett, and animal passers-by - shared living space, rabbits, mice, deer, ponies and more (videos)

References:
The Natural History of Badgers, Ernest Neal
Badgers: Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman
Darkness Is Light Enough: Chris Ferris
Out of the Darkness: Chris Ferris
Eileen Soper's Badgers
Mammals of Britain and Europe: David Macdonald and Priscilla Barrett


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Content produced by Andrew Walmsley
Content produced by Andrew Walmsley