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Badger behaviour - the private lives of badgers

That badgers are difficult to watch almost goes without saying for they are timid creatures that at the slightest hint of danger usually take fright and disappear underground into the warren of interlinked tunnels known as their sett.

And of course, they're largely nocturnal or crepuscular animals that typically emerge from their sett at dusk and head back underground at dawn, with activity mainly restricted to the hours of darkness.

But it is possible to take a peek into the private lives of badgers and observe behaviour patterns using motion-triggered trail cameras positioned close to badger setts, along frequently used badger trails and in favoured feeding areas. And that is what has been done here to capture video recordings of badgers, completely wild animals unused to human contact, that are seen going about their business totally unaware that they are being filmed.

(1) Private lives

Many of these videos were recorded in the New Forest over a four week period in spring, 2021, with permission from Forestry England. (Big thanks are due to Martin Noble, retired Head Keeper and Chairman of the New Forest Badger Group, for arranging this permission).

Other footage was recorded outside the Crown Lands of the New Forest and indeed, in some instances, outside Hampshire. Thanks in these cases are due to a number of land owners who cannot be individually named for fear of revealing sett locations - unbelievably, there are still people out there who wish badgers harm.

It's very unusual to see badgers bringing back bedding in their mouths
It's very unusual to see badgers bringing back bedding in their mouths

Some of recordings took place in daylight, reflecting the badgers early emergence and / or late retreat after a night's activity, whilst other scenes were shot using infra-red illumination during the hours of darkness.

It's certainly a real privilege to be admitted to the badgers' usually secretive nocturnal world. Fascinating behaviour is on show and more often than not there are elements that will make viewers chuckle.

(2) The action

Enjoy watching badger cubs rolling and tumbling as they play fight (although such is the intensity that play does not really seem an appropriate description) whilst in some video clips the fighting is very real indeed.

See adults and cubs groom themselves and each other in front of the camera; bedding is taken underground; and on one night, the cubs aggressive behaviour towards each other followed by half-hearted attempts to make good damage caused to a sett entrance are to no avail so an adult vigorously re-excavates.

Badgers will rest above ground in places where there is little disturbance
Badgers will rest above ground in places where there is little disturbance

A fallen tree trunk is regularly climbed; mice share sett entrances and are unceremoniously chased away; and a visiting fox is given similarly short shrift, although the cubs are very wary of its presence.

Fallow and roe deer pass by and so does a large domestic cat that takes little prompting to run away from an angry badger; whilst on a couple of occasions dogs visit two of the setts, thankfully with relatively innocent intentions.

All is revealed, courtesy of the hidden cameras.

(3) A bit of context

And to put all of this into context, even the most enthusiastic badger watchers are very fortunate to witness very many aspects of badger behaviour. Watchers usually arrive at their chosen sett as dusk approaches, and wait for the animals to appear above ground. The first sign of emergence is typically the outline of a black and white face in the gloom as the 'advance guard' badger sniffs the air, listens and looks around, straining to detect any hint of danger lurking nearby.

Only when it's considered to be safe will badgers fully emerge and maybe groom a little before wandering off to feed. And whilst it's always a treat to even glimpse the animals, that will more often than not signal the end of the evening's watching.

Modesty is at times forgotten when badgers feel the need to groom
Modesty is at times forgotten when badgers feel the need to groom

But much of the enjoyment of badger watching stems, of course, from being out in the woods, or wherever else, at dusk, and sharing the peace and quiet with the badgers, deer, owls and other nocturnal creatures. Yet perhaps surprisingly, some of that experience is available when viewing back trail camera footage - it's almost as though the very act of planning the shoot, placing the camera and recovering it at dawn provides a huge feeling of having 'been there' as the drama unfolded.

(4) Always remember .....

A sow and cubs head underground long after sunrise
A badger sow and cubs head underground long after sunrise

If tempted to place trail cameras at setts, always remember that on the Crown Lands of the New Forest, Forestry England permission is required. For setts elsewhere, the permission of the land owner or manager is required.

And perhaps most important of all, remember that the welfare of the badgers is paramount, which means not causing disturbance and not revealing sett locations to strangers, no matter how trustworthy they might appear to be.

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