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Badgers

The Eurasian badger (meles meles) is an elusive, nocturnal mammal in the same family as weasels, stoats and otters. Like humans, they are omnivorous and largely eat earthworms and berries.

The badger is the British Isles’ largest land carnivore after the bear and the wolf’s extinction. It weighs around 10 to 12 kilos and is about a metre from nose to tail.

Development advice

Badgers are social creatures and live together in large underground setts made of a series of interlocking tunnels with nest chambers, toilets and several entrances. Badgers inherit their setts from their parents, while always expanding and refining them. Sometimes the resulting huge tunnel systems are centuries old.

The badger uses various habitats. They are found in urban, suburban and rural areas, and use woodland, assorted farmland, parks and gardens for foraging and to excavate their setts. Often, conflict occurs where development affects areas badgers traditionally use. In recent years, the issue of controlled culls of UK badgers has brought their plight into public focus.

Species range

Although widespread in England and Wales, many threats have affected badgers including habitat loss and deliberate persecution. This has led to specific laws being created for badgers.

Badgers are specifically protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. This act makes it is a criminal offence to either:

  • wilfully kill, injure, take, possess or cruelly ill-treat a badger, or attempt to do so
  • to intentionally or recklessly interfere with a sett by
    • damaging or destroying it or any part
    • obstructing access to or any entrance of it
    • disturbing a badger when it is occupying a sett

Badgers are also listed in Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 11 of the 1981 Act prohibits the use of certain methods of taking or killing a wild animal, including illuminating devices and some snares.

Penalties:

Under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, someone convicted under the act’s terms is liable to a £5000 fine and/or six months’ imprisonment. Any equipment used to break the law may be forfeited. Any dog used to commit an offence may be destroyed and the offender disqualified from custody of a dog. When offending is reasonably suspected, a constable may stop and search any person or vehicle involved without warrant, and seize anything which may be evidence.

Guidance note one:

It is the developer’s responsibility to ensure that the proposed development will not adversely affect badgers or their habitats. A licence is needed for heavy machinery work within 30m of a badger sett, light machinery within 20m and hand digging within 10m.

A badger sett is defined as ‘any structure or place which displays signs indicating current use by a badger’. An ecological survey will confirm whether or not a site contains or lies within a badger sett’s influence. The best time for a survey is spring or early autumn/winter when they’re active but new vegetation is less likely to hide evidence.

Some setts are used seasonally. Natural Resources Wales (NRW) considers all setts including seasonal ones to be occupied unless evidence confirms they’ve been unoccupied over 12 months. Damaging or closing a sett without the right licence is an offence unless it can be shown that it has been unused over 12 months.

Natural England’s Standing Advice Species Sheet: Eurasian Badger (Badger), and CCWs Badgers and Development has further advice on running badger surveys.

Guidance note two:

Where surveys show development proposals will affect badgers, applicants should consult with Natural Resources Wales to check if the works need a licence. Also we require a method statement to be sent with the planning application for it to be registered. If it is considered that the proposed avoidance, mitigation, or compensation measures are unsatisfactory, the Local Planning Authority will refuse the application.

The badger survey’s data must be formulated into a method statement which is submitted to us to inform our planning decision. The method statement should detail the survey area, project proposals, survey methods and results. The method statement should contain the impact assessment. Impacts should be classed as temporary, short term or long-term, and each impact’s scale should be identified. The method statement should include practical avoidance measures and, where avoidance is impossible, provide a detailed mitigation strategy with a timetable.

The method statement should also identify whether a licence from Natural Resources Wales is needed before starting development activities. Developers and landowners should note that we will not condition the method statement’s production. The method statement helps us make our determination about the The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and the need for a National Resources Wales licence.

Applications where proposals result in an anticipated effect on badgers, but which don’t have an appropriate method statement will most likely not be validated. If we validate an application, but the information about badgers is later found insufficient during the determination, this may affect the planning decision.

Works on a site with an active badger sett may need a licence from Natural Resources Wales (NRW). A licence can only be applied for once planning permission has been granted.

A licence cannot be applied for retrospectively after a sett has been damaged or disturbed. Ensure you plan ahead, as a licence will normally take around six weeks. For NRW to determine a licence application, you must confirm or provide:

  • details of the final planning permission granted for the site, including a copy of any section 106 agreement
  • proposals showing how it will be ensured that there are no badgers occupying setts that need to be damaged or destroyed
  • the location and number of alternative setts where excluded animals may shelter when a main sett is to be lost
  • details of any artificial sett that has been constructed with a clear plan of the sett and photographs of it under construction and when completed
    • evidence of use of the artificial sett by badgers
  • details of fencing and underpasses where necessary to permit badgers access to existing feeding areas, and to prevent obstruction to setts
  • main or seasonally important feeding areas or water sources which should be maintained or replaced where they may be affected
  • the names and addresses of those who will be doing specialised badger work, who can work to suitable standards so the work is done effectively
  • assurances that machinery used near setts or to destroy them will be operated by competent persons
  • dates between July and November inclusive when the work will be done or mitigating circumstances for any work undertaken outside this period
  • details of the monitoring to be done during and after construction
  • information on general operating practices on site, which must ensure that badgers are not inadvertently harmed or trapped

We recommend developers should consult with the NRW regarding proposed artificial setts before constructing them. The law does not permit licences for capturing badgers for development purposes. Relocating badgers by translocation is not an option.

Apply for a licence:

For further, updated information on how to apply for badger licences issued by NRW and the Welsh Government, visit NRW’s website.

Guidance note three:

Developers/applicants must give sufficient evidence to show that avoidance is impossible before mitigation and compensation are considered as alternatives.

The simplest way to avoid disturbing badgers is not to develop where sett/s are located. Ensuring that works do not take place after dark in the proximity of the sett/s is also another way to avoid disturbance.

Badger setts are used by the same family of badgers over generations, as are their foraging routes. A badger will likely damage barriers or fencing across badger foraging routes as they will nearly always use the same pathways. By monitoring over a period of time, badgers’ movement patterns and habits can be understood and unnecessary disturbance and costly repairs can be avoided.

With badger numbers declining in most of Europe, the UK is one of the species' strongholds. Badgers are ancient Britons and have lived alongside us for a very long time. The earliest fossil remains date back 250,000 years. Some setts have been occupied over many generations, and one sett in Derbyshire is even in the Domesday Book.

Guidance note four:

Where harm is unavoidable, mitigation measures should minimise it.
Where impact on a sett or the occupying badgers is unavoidable, relocation, exclusion or provision of artificial setts could be employed in mitigation. However, the specific methods of mitigation should be decided in consultation with NRW and Bridgend County Borough Council. They will be the subject of the licence.

Exclusion zone around the sett

An exclusion zone should be created around any badger setts on, or nearby the site. Even if a sett is not within the development footprint, an exclusion zone will be needed if a sett is within 30m of a development.

The exclusion zone must be clear to onsite workers, as should controls on activities that can occur onsite and in the exclusion zone. The exclusion zone should be bounded by a fence around 1m high. To allow the badgers passage, you must leave a gap underneath, and dimensions of 30cm to one foot would be ample for this. Alternatively, a badger gate could be used, which is conceptually similar to a cat-flap.

Licensable activities near a sett

Several activities can be done close to a badger sett. The level of activity and distance from the sett will depend on whether a licence has been issued.

A licence is required for work:

  • less than 30m from a sett using heavy machinery
  • less than 20m from a sett using light machinery
  • less than 10m from a sett using a hand tool for activities like scrub clearance and digging

Other more disruptive activities such as pile driving or the use of explosives, within 100m of a sett(s) will need a licence. These are not definitive distances, and advice should be sought from NRW before starting these activities, and preferably before applying for a licence. The 10m, 20m, and 30m distances might need adjustment depending on circumstances.

Safety advice for badgers

Building sites are as dangerous for badgers as for people, and you must take measures to reduce the risk. Chemicals should be stored securely away from setts. Holes or trenches left open overnight should have a means of escape for badgers that may fall in.

If and when a badger sett is to be lost, an experienced and suitably qualified ecologist should be onsite to give guidance. It is usually a condition of the licence that an ecologist implements or at least supervises work to close and destroy a badger sett.

Guidance note five:

Compensation will only be considered where:

  • the developer/applicant has satisfactorily shown avoidance and mitigation are impossible
  • and compensatory measures make no net loss of habitat

Foraging habitats used by badgers that will be lost or damaged by development should be replaced by habitat suitable for foraging. A suitably qualified ecologist will be able to provide advice about this. It is important not to simply rely on the provision of private gardens as foraging areas. This is because badgers can be destructive and dig up gardens, and so it is better to provide alternative feeding areas not associated with gardens.

Should a badger sett be unavoidably destroyed, it will most likely need to be replaced. This is done through providing an artificial sett. It should be noted that this is really only an option if all other ways to avoid destruction have been explored. If this is the only suitable course of action, the new artificial sett should be created before development starts.

A suitably qualified ecologist and the local badger group will be able to provide guidance and suggestions for locations of new artificial setts. If it is impossible to capture and translocate badgers to a new sett, any mitigation land must be made accessible in the immediate surroundings.

The avoidance, mitigation or compensation provided by developments for badgers should not be considered in isolation. It should be included into design stages early in the development with badger foraging areas.

Well-designed green infrastructure with open spaces can allow wildlife to flourish, as well as providing other benefits to the development. Green infrastructure should be designed with an ecologist’s input. This allows factors to be taken into account like how to include wildlife features like artificial badger setts whilst also:

  • considering the site’s later uses
  • designing to avoid disturbing wildlife features such as badger setts and foraging areas

It is important that developments do not isolate a badger territory by surrounding it with roads or housing. This could result in problems like increased road accidents, and badger damage to gardens and houses.

Image credit: 'Wild Badger' by Ellis Lawrence. Licence credit.

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