Tracking Badger

Most can recognise a badger, they are truly an iconic animal, but how many of us can say we’ve actually observed one in the wild? In this blog I will give you some hints & tips I have picked up along the way on what to look for and how to go about utilising the bushcraft skills of tracking to conduct your own badger watch.

Tracking Badger by Woodland Ways (Wilderness Bushcraft Courses)

Legal Bit

Firstly the legal bit. Badgers are protected by the law, under the revised Protection of Badgers Act 1992, imposed mainly to protect them from people who may not have their best interests at heart. We as trackers need to pay particular attention to section the best pharmacy store (e); disturbing a badger when it is occupying a badger sett.

We need to ensure observation is only undertaken if we can approach and leave the area without disruption to the badgers. This is so important that I want to state it again;

“We need to ensure observation is only undertaken if we can approach and leave the area without disruption to the badgers”.

They are active at night, so as a bushcraft instructor I would suggest you set up an hour before sunset and when the badgers are well clear of the sett on their forage for food it is our time to leave. Avoid walking around the sett or using badger trails immediately to and from the watch, we don’t want them to be alerted upon their return even though we have gone.

Some land has free marked access to the public. However this is not true of some privately owned land and any restrictions must be respected. In these cases you will require landowner’s permission. Be mindful that others may not share your enthusiasm for badgers and it is wise not to draw attention to a badger sett to them. This is particularly relevant at the current time as the current debate on badger culling continues, incidentally a cull which we as a Bushcraft School are completely against due to the lack of scientific evidence supporting it.

Finding sign

It is a good idea initially to survey an area during daylight, looking for any evidence of badger activity. Using binoculars from a distance to look for sign can be a great help. When choosing binoculars it is well worth spending a little bit of time choosing a pair to make sure you do not waste money.

Some places where you may find badger setts include woodland, hedgerows, open fields and disused quarries.

Ok so what do we look for and where do we find it? There are many signs that can indicate badger activity. As with all tracking skills, in understanding how they operate within their environment can help guide us where to look and what to look for. Badgers will mark their territory along man made or natural boundaries like hedgerows, fences and streams. Finding evidence of badger scat and prints is a clear indication we are starting to look in the right place.

Badgers are omnivores (which means that they consume both animal and plant materials), and their scat can contrast greatly depending on what they have eaten. Loose stools are usually due to a diet of worms. Worms are a staple part of their diet alongside other soil invertebrate and are top of the badger menu. Firm sausage like scat can contain fur, bones from small rodents, berries & seeds. Dark and shiny stools are an indication of consuming beetles.

Badger tracks are distinctive, they resemble a small bear and it was for this reason they were thought to belong to that family. It is now known they belong to the Mustelidae family which include stoat, pole cat, pine marten, otters, and weasels. The front print is longer than the back print with 5 strong claws, used for digging, these are usually visible in the right substrate, although the inner toe may not always show. The rear of the pad is kidney shaped, a key indicator that it is not dog or fox.

A badger territory can be anything from 30 to 150 hectares depending on the abundance of food, so we need to narrow it down a little. If we come across a boundary we can start to look for track traps and trails.

Badgers will make their own paths. Unlike other animal trails they are not always straight, but wobbled about a bit from point to point. If you live in a chalky area some paths can appear with a white tinge, after being underground they will still have white chalk on their belly and this can transfer. When it has been raining recently it can indicate recent activity. With obstacles over a path, look for chalk sign here as well. This will not be a fox as a fox will jump, although fox trails tend to be more straight anyway.

Runs that go under wire may show contact sign. Look for hair with white tip black band and white base, the hair will also feel edged when rolled between the fingers. It is this attention to detail that you will want to pay and is something that we explore on our tracking course.

Well used tracks may have dung pits known as latrines. These are easy to recognise as they are a series of six inch square pits 8-10cm deep left uncovered and may be used several times.

When tracking for badger we can use the macro landscape to focus our attention so we do not have be standing on top of a sett to recognise where one may be. For example knowing badgers spend the daytime underground in setts we can also look for indications of disturbed ground which will have flora indicators.

Elder and, Stinging Nettles both like to grow in disturbed soils so these may indicate a likely area to investiagate. Look for scratch marks and clay on the elder trees. When digging in clay it will get stuck in their claws. Badgers like to remove this by transferring it onto trees by scratching.

In late winter early spring in preparation for the young, look for cleanly cut long grass close to the ground; It will be cut green & taken into the sett to ferment and so give heat. The added advantage is that in cutting it green the nutrients remain in the grass which will in turn make it last longer.

In constructing their setts they will create soil heaps. In chalky areas anything digging in the terrain will bring up something white. In sandy areas it will appear lighter than the surrounding soil. A good indication will be large lumps of chalk with claw marks on them.

A typical sett can have between three to ten entrances 25cm across, not necessarily all being used. These lead to an intricate system of interconnecting tunnels and chambers.

Note any remains of bedding material at the sett entrances as a guide to which ones to be watching. It is unlikely that they are bringing it out to air it. As replacement bedding is brought in some of the old bedding is caught up in the process and gets carried back in.
Be mindful that although you may have located a badger sett it might be something other than a badger which is using it. In fact in winter it has been known for species to co-occupy setts, seeing Fox, Rabbit and Badgers using the same sett in the heart of winter is not uncommon.

It is a combination of all these things that allows us to get footage on our cameras like Some wonderful wildlife captured on our woodland Camera in our Oxfordshire Woodland during Bushcraft Courses

So now we have a location to conduct our watch there are some things we need to think about for it to be successful.

Remember Your S’s

Sight – A good distance is roughly 10m (20m) away to avoid disturbing them. Badgers have poor eyesight not seeing much detail beyond 10m, but they can still detect movement so remember to keep still, avoiding alerting them. Choose a location with some cover, but also have a good view.

Shape – There is nothing else in nature shaped like man’s head and shoulders, animals recognise it immediately. We are seen as a predator by them and so we need to do everything we can to disguise it. Break it up with hats, coats with hoods. A Scrim is ideal (net like scarf) drape it over a shoulder around head and on to other shoulder to really disrupt that shape.

Smell – Avoid strong soaps, aftershave, and perfume. If you often find yourself on the menu of midges and mosquitoes it is a good idea to avoid deet to, instead cover exposed skin and or use a natural product like Nordic Summer. Badgers have a very keen sense of smell and any of these might frighten them and prevent them coming out. We can disguise our own scent, although don’t be tempted to disguise it by wood smoke, rather use natural materials you find around you like leaf mulch.

Wind direction is also important. With the sett in front of you, ideally you want to position yourself with the wind in your face to prevent the badgers detecting your scent. Avoid positioning yourself above the set as on stiller days the cold air will sink down taking your scent with it. Position yourself instead to the side to avoid this.

Silhouette – Use trees, bracken and brambles to help disguise and disrupt your silhouette. Think about your background and avoid clothing that will contrast with your surroundings. Think what the badger will see and avoid positioning yourself where they can see your shape against the sky.

Sound – Be prepared, get everything you need out and turn that mobile off, before you get to the sett. If you are in a woodland environment look all around, It will try to take you out at every level, creating noise in the process. Avoid walking flatfoot to and from the sett. Try walking slowly and rolling your foot from heal to outside of the foot to toe. You’ll be surprised how much more you can feel under your feet and how many of those annoying noisy twigs you can avoid snapping by rolling back off and taking a different step. Be comfortable, you will potentially be motionless for a number of hours. Wear appropriate none rustle clothing for the season and conditions. Use something to isolate yourself from the ground. Fuel your body with something which will release energy slowly prior to going out. Take water but avoid shiny containers or cans. Try not to take sweets, wrappers will alert the badgers. Oh, and turn that mobile off.

Shine – Avoid reflective surfaces like watches, flasks, jewellery, camera, mobile, even the lenses of your binoculars and skin to a certain extent will produce shine and alert wildlife. Wear dull natural tones. If your thinking camouflage, then choose something with vertical lines this will prove far more effective than other patterns. DPM works best when you are laid on the ground, but starts to become less effective in other positions.

Group Size

The ideal group size is, I’m afraid just one, two at a push, but resist talking as the badgers can detect this. Avoid going out in windy conditions, although this will help to mask any sound you make and carry your scent away, it makes badgers very wary and will reduce your chances of a successful watch.

You may first see the badgers head appear at the entrance. They would have been away from the entrance for a few minutes listening and smelling for any warning signs, so it’s important to bear this in mind. All being well the badger/s will emerge and then go back down again. This won’t necessarily be that it has detected your presence. (When a badger is alerted to something it will lift its head and twitch it from one side to another.) Badgers short term memory is not good, they will repeat patterns in behaviour. It’s almost as if they are thinking “what am I doing back down here again?” we’ve all gone in to another room at home and thought what am I here for, same thing. Remain quiet and still, giving it 10 minutes and they will show themselves again.

After spending the day underground in cramped conditions they will take the opportunity to scratch. This can be the first sign they are out, especially if they have come out of a hole you are not watching. It’s quite a coarse rasping sound. If they have fed the previous night they will come out and settle. You may well see them grooming each other. This is a bonding exercise as they remove fleas and other creatures from each other.

When the light starts to fade use your binoculars you already took out (remember about the larger aperture as dusk approached this will help) in readiness to help extend your viewing. They are designed to capture light, depending on the type this can give you an extra 10-15 minutes viewing. If you are at a sett with no overhanging trees viewing will last even longer. Remember to avoid crossing their sett and tracks as you leave.

Good luck and feel free to join our Facebook page to keep us all updated on your observations.

Jay Jenner– Apprentice Bushcraft Instructor

Tracking Badger by Woodland Ways (Wilderness Bushcraft Courses)

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