I visited a badger sett near Perth the other day. It is one that I discovered about 35 years ago after regular reports of badgers being killed on the road. It is a huge sett in deciduous woodland with over 20 entrances and literally tons of earth excavated. I’ve kept an eye on it over this long period and have photographed its entrances, runs, latrines etc for use in wildlife crime officer training exercises at the Scottish Police College. In all that time I have never seen a live badger from the sett.
Thankfully the risk of the badgers getting killed on the road is now greatly reduced as the wood is netted on the side giving access to the road. It must be 20 years since I was last aware of a badger being killed there. There are a number of smaller outlying setts within about half a mile, and about a mile away there is another huge sett which might well contain a different family group. I’ve seen plenty signs of badgers at this other sett and also of fox cubs in early summer.
On my recent visit there were plenty signs of current use. This is the defined term in the Protection of Badgers Act necessary to establish if a wildlife crime has been committed in relation to the sett. I quote from my book Wildlife and the Law:
“For investigative purposes the definition of a badger sett is the legislative definition: any structure or place which displays signs indicating current use by a badger (s. 14). It is therefore the statutory requirement that for the structure or place to be a badger sett there must be more than one sign or indicator visibly present that point to the fact that the structure or place is being used by a badger (Sheriff’s judgement, PF Jedburgh v Harris 2010). These could be:
- The presence of bedding
- Latrines or dung pits connected to the sett by recently-used paths
- Pad marks identifiable as those of a badger at the sett entrance
- Well-used paths with pad marks evidencing use by a badger
- Remnants of fresh bedding present in freshly excavated soil
- Hairs snagged in entrances or in freshly excavated soil
- Foraging marks
- The shape of the entrance
- A freshly-dug latrine pit even though there is no dung in it”
So on my visit I could confirm that there were badger pad marks at some of the entrances to the sett, well-used badger paths, foraging marks, which were very recent scrapes near sett entrances and on a rotten log, where the badger may have been trying to scrap out invertebrates, and of course the typical D shape of the sett entrance. None of the other signs were present (though if I had looked a bit more closely I’m sure I could have added badger hairs to that list) but I had established more than one of the above list of accepted signs and if need be could have established this in a court situation as an active badger sett.
The above list is not exclusive. I also saw two places near sett entrances polished smooth by the badger sitting and having a good scratch. I am sure this would be acceptable in court, and may be one of several features of a sett in active use that has not been included in the legal definition. Another sign near the sett that looked like badger foraging at first glance was actually a scrape or ‘couch’ made by a roe deer before it sat down to rest.
The direction of the main badger path went towards adjacent grass fields with horses in them. I am sure this would be a great source of worms and beetles and must be one of the main feeding areas of the badgers. If I’d had time I’m sure I could also have collected badger hairs where this path and other badger paths went through the fence to the field. This element may not have been acceptable on its own but may have backed up the other factors necessary.
For anyone who visits a sett, especially in areas where that most despicable of wildlife crimes –badger digging – takes place, it is worth noting and recording these signs at every visit. The activity associated with digging the sett will unfortunately obliterate some of these crucial signs, but if they have been recorded before the digging takes place this evidence can be used by the police to help make a case.
Badger digging in my part of Scotland is very uncommon, but I am reminded almost daily of its evil presence in my work with the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which of course collates the intelligence for the whole of the UK.