Watching badgers requires planning and patience, but it’s worth it

Picture: Complimentary
Picture: Complimentary
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Young badgers will be making their first forays outside their homes or setts over the next few weeks, making this one of the best periods of the year to watch these fascinating animals.

The cubs are always compelling, playful and confiding, the innocence of youth making them quite easy to approach for a good view, provided one takes care and attention.

I am often asked about how one can go about watching badgers and the most important advice I can ever give is to plan ahead. The over-riding aim must always be to watch the badgers without disturbing them. This means planning a careful approach to the vicinity of the sett, locating a good site to observe them from and then having a quiet and safe route of retreat at the end of the session.

But the first hurdle is to find a sett. This can be surprisingly difficult despite setts often being large affairs comprising an elaborate labyrinth of tunnels with several large access holes. Some setts have been lived in by generations of badgers that have been gradually expanded over the years. There is nearly always a large spoil heap or mound of excavated earth outside the main entrances.

The majority of setts are in wooded areas and I have found that they are most frequently situated within a zone 30m or so inside from the woodland edge in areas adjacent to open pasture. Badgers love to eat earthworms and having pasture close to the sett ensures easy access to an important food source. Badgers also prefer to build their setts into the side of a slope in areas of well-drained and easy to dig soil. Therefore, my top tip to find a sett is to search along the edges of sloping woodland close to grazing land.

Once the sett has been located, the next task is to find a suitable observation point. Badgers have an excellent sense of smell and the first whiff of human scent will send them quickly tumbling back down into their tunnels. In the past, I countered this problem by finding an observation point on a branch in an easily climbable tree so that any wind eddies would carry my smell well above the badgers’ noses.

However, sitting on a branch can be incredibly uncomfortable and often there are no convenient trees nearby anyhow. Another disadvantage is that climbing down from a tree can be positively dangerous in the dark, especially as it is hard to judge the distance to the ground. My much preferred option nowadays is to identify two or three suitable ground viewpoints; the cover provided by a small bush is ideal. You will need to be downwind of the sett to have any chance of seeing the badgers, so the final viewpoint chosen on the night will depend upon the wind direction.

Badgers are mainly nocturnal mammals, which means the months of May and June are by far the best times for seeing them – not just because there will be cubs about but also because the long daylight hours means that the animals will often be out well before it gets dark. Make sure you arrive at the sett in good time before the estimated first emergence. As a rough guide, last year in the middle of May at one of my local setts, the badgers would emerge at about 9:10pm when there was still plenty of light. My vantage point was about 30m away and located behind a broom bush on a slight rise. With 10 x 40 magnification binoculars, the views obtained were superb and there was little chance of disturbing them because I was a reasonable distance away. In all my years of badger watching this has been by far my best and most comfortable viewing point. So, my final piece of advice is to forget the tree climbing option and always go for a suitable location at ground level to watch badgers. And when it is time to head home as darkness falls, make sure you have a pre-determined route that is easily negotiable in poor light.

Badger watching is a great way of getting close to nature and whilst waiting for the badgers to emerge many other creatures are often seen such as foxes and roe deer. But my favourites are the woodcock and their quite magnificent slow wing-flapping ‘roding’ territorial flights just above the tree-tops. I really can’t imagine a more therapeutic way to spend an evening.