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RSPCA - Problems With Badgers?
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6. BADGERS CAUSING DAMAGE

6.1 Badger 'damage' licences
6.2 Badger damage to gardens
6.3 Badger damage to golf courses, bowling greens and churchyards
6.4 Badger damage to crops and livestock
6.5 Badgers digging under farm tracks and in fields
6.6 Badger damage to levees, road and railway embankments
6.7 Badger removal for disease control

6.1 Badger 'damage' licences

When badgers cause, or apparently cause, damage to property the effects often look worse than they really are and the owners may be sufficiently aggrieved to want the badgers killed or removed. However, there are many actions which can be taken before this is necessary, or even considered. These are listed in the following paragraphs. On the other hand, when damage is persistent and economically serious, then the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 notes (section 10 (2)(b)) that licences may be granted to take or kill badgers and to interfere with setts in order to prevent 'serious damage to land, crops, poultry or any other form of property'. The licensing authority in this case is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England (or the Scottish and Welsh Offices). Whilst these bodies are required to consult with the appropriate Statutory Nature Conservation Agencies on the issuing of 'damage licences', the licensing authorities need not consult each other over every application, and are unlikely to do so. Once an application has been made for such a 'damage' licence, a visit is usually made by staff from the licensing authority, who wish to ascertain the facts and may provide advice on methods of alleviating the problem and deterring the badgers from causing further damage rather than issue a licence for the badgers to be removed.

Before a licence is actually issued the authorities would need to be assured (i) that damage had already occurred causing either serious economic loss or that there was significant damage to property, boundary walls or even dogs where economic loss was not an appropriate measure of the damage caused, and that there was a potential for further loss (i.e. one cannot have a 'pre-emptive strike'), (ii) that all possible and reasonable deterrent action had been taken and failed, (iii) that badgers were the culprits and (iv) that the individuals or social group causing that damage could be identified and caught or killed (i.e. there should be no control of local badgers in general). The licence, when issued, will specify the number of badgers to be taken, from where they can be taken and the period and method of taking to be used. The badgers taken could be considered for translocation (8.5 Chapter 8. Rehabilitating Badgers), depending on the type of damage caused. It may, for instance, be more advisable to destroy the occasional rogue badger that has been consistently taking poultry. In situations where badgers cause seasonal damage e.g. flattening cereals or eating soft fruit, it is usually better to attempt to deter them than to apply for a licence to kill them. Very few 'damage' licences are actually authorised each year to kill badgers, but many more are issued to interfere with badger setts for various reasons.

The law does allow an aggrieved person to kill or take a badger if that individual animal is caught in the act of causing serious damage (e.g. already in the hen house killing hens when found). This defence is only allowed if that person can prove that they had no time to apply for a licence (i.e. similar damage had not been occurring some time before the event that was witnessed and acted upon).

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6.2 Badger damage to gardens

Badgers frequently come into the edge of urban areas to forage, and as urban areas continue to expand, more and more badgers are living close to built-up areas. In gardens they may damage fences, dig up lawns for insect larvae (particularly leatherjackets), turn over dustbins, climb fruit trees or break their lower branches to obtain cherries, apples, pears or plums. Badgers are also very partial to soft fruit crops, particularly strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries, and to certain vegetables. They may raid new potato crops, dig up carrots and damage sweet corn. Badgers also use latrines to mark their territories, and these may be dug in lawns or flower beds. A latrine consists of several pits about 15 centimeters deep, some of which will contain faeces. The area of ground surrounding a latrine is frequently scraped up. However, it is unlikely that badgers digging in gardens would ever be considered to be causing serious economic damage for which a licence to kill or take badgers (see 3.2.6 Chapter 3. Badgers and the Law) would be granted.

Minimising damage to gardens is very difficult; badgers are powerful animals that can break or dig under most conventional fencing and can climb surprisingly well. A fence that will keep out a badger needs to be strong, usually chain link, and 125 centimetres or more high. Suitable designs are shown in fig. 6 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way. Thus it should be dug at least 30 centimetres (and preferably 50 centimetres) into the ground and with a piece at the bottom set at right angles facing outwards from the garden for a distance of about 50 centimetres underground. Alternatively, bending the bottom of a chainlink fence outward and downward at an angle of 45 may deter some badgers, but is unlikely to keep out a determined animal. Gateways and other points of entry need to be secure enough to stop a badger squeezing through or climbing over or under. Clearly such a fence is highly expensive to provide and maintain, and is impracticable in most situations. Alternative remedies are as follows:-

a. Digging in lawns and problems caused by latrines are largely seasonal. Latrines are most conspicuous in the spring and to a lesser extent in the autumn. Similarly, digging lawns for leather jackets and other grubs is most pronounced in the late autumn and early spring. Since these forms of damage are confined to certain limited periods of the year, many gardeners find it easier to tolerate the nuisance rather than try to exclude badgers from their garden. If however some form of action is necessary, the application of an appropriate insecticide or vermicide (see 6.3) will remove the insects or earthworms that are attracting the badgers to the lawn. However, such treatment will deny this food source to birds and other animals as well as badgers. Also, the removal of the invertebrate fauna from the soil will, in the longer-term, result in the degradation of the soil structure and the reduction of nutrient cycling. Alternatively, the use of commercial mammalian repellents (see 5.7.1 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way) may have psychological benefit for the householder, although their value in deterring badgers from entering gardens is uncertain. Remember that 'pet' repellents do not necessarily have legal approval or clearance for use against badgers.

b. Damage to gardens is often the result of food shortages, particularly in hot dry summers when badgers may have great difficulty finding enough food. One remedy may be to feed the badgers until the hot dry spell finishes, although this may sometimes aggravate the problem (see 4.5 Chapter 4. Protecting and Watching Badgers).

c. If badgers raid dustbins frequently, the lid should be secured with an expanding strap with a hook at each end. These are readily available from bicycle and car accessory shops. Just put the strap through the handle on the lid and secure the two hooks to the handles on the dustbin (fig. 15). This usually stops all but the most persistent badger from rifling your dustbin, and removing, this food source (and others e.g. do not leave out food for the birds except in inaccessible feeders and do not put scraps on the compost heap) should also reduce the badger activity in your garden thereby also minimising the damage to lawns and fences.

d. Damage to wooden or netting fences will recur if the fences are repaired. Badgers are creatures of habit and will continue to use traditional pathways. The easiest course of action is to accept that badgers will try to use an established path. Either leave a gap in the fence or provide a badger gate as described in 5.7.2 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way. When a garden has been fenced to contain a pet dog, this approach is rarely feasible, since a large hole in the fence or a badger gate will allow all but the larger breeds of dog to escape. However, a length of pipe about 22 centimetres in diameter set in the fence on the badgers path will allow the badgers free access at night and still retain medium to large dogs during the day.

e. In the past, to try to prevent badgers entering a garden where damage had occurred, rags or ropes soaked in repellents such as creosote, diesel fuel or 'Renardine' were hung across entrance points. However, experience showed that these rarely worked, and the use of these substances is also now illegal for discouraging badgers (see 5.7.1 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way). The only realistic way to deter badgers from entering gardens is to use a small electric fence. This may sound like a major undertaking, but it is reasonably simple and much cheaper than building a more permanent fence. It also has the advantage of being removable, so that it only needs to be used at those times of the year when badgers are being particularly troublesome. An electric fence can be used to prevent badgers entering the whole garden, in which case a long fence across all possible points of entry must be provided. Alternatively, an electric fence can be used to protect a vegetable or fruit garden, or an allotment. Advice on erecting an electric fence is given in fig 22 and 23 Chapter 9. Useful Techniques.

Fig 15. Dustbin with expanding straps to secure lid
Click Illustration for full-page view

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6.3 Badger damage to golf courses, bowling greens and churchyards

Badgers can sometimes be found in large gardens and golf courses in suburbia. They may be welcome to live and have their setts in the former but they are rarely welcome to forage in the latter. They can dig into greens, fairways and bunkers, causing obvious problems to the greenkeepers and course managers. The digging of small pits, or occasionally the rolling up of the turf like a carpet, is largely the result of foraging for insect larvae or earthworms, and the use of repellents in such situations is described on 5.7.1 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way.

Alternatively, reducing the food source in the most sensitive areas should reduce the surface damage. This should be done using non-persistent insecticides or vermicides (worm killing agents), so that the local wildlife does not pick up residues of the chemicals and their metabolites in any dying or surviving invertebrates. Use of the carbaryl group of insecticides or vermicides is probably better on sports turf than using chlordane. The latter, although a good vermicide, is an organochlorine with long persistence and has another organochlorine, heptachlor, present as an impurity; both of these are harmful to vertebrate animals. Also, the use of chlordane is being phased out. A number of carbaryl insecticides/vermicides are available. Many of these can only be used by certificated professional staff of golf courses, parks, etc. However, there are formulations for use by amateurs in their gardens containing carbaryl or a mixture of carbaryl and rotenone, and which are approved for killing earthworms and leather-jackets in turf. These could be suggested for use by keen gardeners where there is great concern over damage to garden lawns. However, only a professional BASIS-registered or certified adviser can legally offer advice on the use of these chemicals, and so such a person must be consulted when deciding what level and type of control is required. Thus in the first instance such enquiries should be directed to the nearest Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Regional Service Centre (see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses), or people may be able to seek advice at their local garden centre.

The same advice regarding professional carbaryl based formulations applies to damage on bowling greens, although being a smaller area, it may be practical to protect the green with an electric fence overnight if damage is persistent and extensive. This is preferable wherever possible; the widespread application of pesticides should be avoided since invertebrates are a food source for many other species besides badgers. Also, insecticides are non-specific and affect useful insects such as bees and others of conservation importance. Finally, if the predators of invertebrates are discouraged from feeding in a particular area, other problems may arise should pests less sensitive to the insecticides multiply unchecked.

Setts on golf courses are usually dug among the small woodlands or groups of trees scattered between the fairways. If it is possible for the badgers to be restricted to certain woodlands where the presence of a fence would not affect play, this could be tried out experimentally using lengths of electric fencing as described in fig 22 and 23 Chapter 9. Useful Techniques. If successful the temporary fence can be converted later into a more permanent and expensive badger-proof fence (as described in 5.2.2 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way) with stiles for the golfers. Otherwise, if all else fails or the golfers will not accept a fence, it may be a matter of deterring the badgers from using any setts near the sensitive areas. If this becomes necessary, use the exclusion fence technique described in 5.2.2 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way, and carefully dig out the setts as soon as they are abandoned to ensure that there is no animal still inside. After the sett has been filled in and the exclusion fence has been removed, either maintain a close watch in order to fill in any incipient setts as they appear, or bury chain link netting just below and over the whole surface of the small woodland in question to prevent or deter further digging by the badgers.

Badgers sometimes carry out extensive nocturnal excavations within old churchyards or cemeteries, both to the distress of the public and the concern of the local Environmental Health Officers. In one Essex churchyard an extensive sett was dug amongst the graves and human bones appeared on the spoil heaps! Badgers have also been known to dig up and eat the bulbs of flowers planted in the same areas. If possible, any excavations in a churchyard should be filled in as soon as they appear, and the badgers should be deterred from entering the churchyard, either by filling in any entrance tunnels under walls, or by erecting a temporary electric fence. Badgers have been known to excavate extensively under walls, such as those around churchyards, thereby rendering them liable to collapse. In such cases it may be necessary to exclude any resident badgers as described in 5.7.2 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way, and then fill the tunnels with concrete to underpin the wall. An electric fence should then be used to deter the badgers from digging around the concrete plugs. The fence can be removed when the badger activity decreases.

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6.4 Badger damage to crops and livestock

Badgers may cause damage to agricultural crops; sweet-corn is occasionally eaten (and sometimes the damage is extensive), vineyards may be raided in the autumn, and cereals can be eaten or rolled on and flattened. Badgers may climb fruit trees to reach apples, pears, plums or cherries and, rarely, break low-hanging branches to obtain the fruit. These forms of damage are usually seasonal and localised, and are usually, but not always, prevented by excluding the badgers with an electric fence as described in fig 22 and 23 Chapter 9. Useful Techniques. Success seems to depend on the availability of other food sources, and the size of the area that needs to be protected. However, before any action is taken, the cost of the damage caused should be assessed. Often it is less than first imagined, and the cost of control exceeds the losses incurred.

Protecting a whole cereal field is rarely practical, and Charlie Wilson of ADAS suggests that whilst it is possible to effectively protect areas up to about a hectare with an electric fence, it may be less effective in protecting larger areas such as whole cereal fields, largely because of problems with earthing and hence reduction in the voltage to levels below which the badgers are deterred. However, badgers often have well-defined access routes to their feeding areas; sometimes when these are blocked with an electric fence the badgers do not try to obtain access to the area via a new route, and so it may only be necessary to fence the side(s) of the field nearest to the sett from which the badgers are coming. Unfortunately, this does not always work, and success probably depends on the badgers having an alternative foraging area. Where significant losses do occur, contact the relevant Agricultural Department for advice on the best course of action. Occasionally, damage to crops may be so severe as to necessitate action against the badgers.

Badgers occasionally will also raid poultry, though this is very rare, and is usually the activity of a particularly troublesome individual rather than a whole group of badgers. If secure housing of the fowl and/or the use of an electric fence do not deter the badger(s), then a licence can be sought from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (or Scottish or Welsh 'Office) for the destruction of the particular badger(s) causing the damage (see 6.1). Badgers are also accused of lamb-killing, especially in upland areas. This is rare, although badgers will scavenge from sheep and lamb carcasses, and eat afterbirths. On investigation most complaints about stock-killing by badgers cannot be substantiated, although convincing the farmer may not be an easy task. Further information about badger damage to domestic livestock and its infrequency can be obtained from Ernest Neal's book, details of which are given in Chapter 12. Further Reading.

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6.5 Badgers digging under farm tracks and in fields

A frequent cause of concern on farm-land is the excavation of tunnels running from a sett in a hedgebank under a farm track or extending into arable or pasture fields, sometimes many metres away. These tunnels are often very close to the surface and heavy agricultural machinery or livestock may break through the tunnels, resulting in considerable damage and/or lost time in extrication. Sometimes just finding the exit holes in the crops or the discovery of lines of small holes where the tunnel roof has broken through is sufficient to cause understandable alarm and a demand for action by the farmer. In these cases there is usually no need to take action against the sett itself, since the farmer is often quite happy to accept its presence so long as something is done about the extended tunnels.

There are several possible courses of action. Probably the best action here is to deliberately break in the roof of the shallow tunnels back from the entrance holes towards the bank. This forms a 'U' shaped trench which can be filled in with hard core in permanent pasture, but not in leys or arable fields that will be ploughed. This can be repeated in subsequent seasons if necessary. Alternatively, layers of mesh can be buried in the field over the tunnels, so long as the mesh can be laid deep enough not to interfere with ploughing. This is usually at least 30-50 centimetres, although this needs to be established in consultation with the farmer. The method is exactly the same as that described for protecting setts (see 4.3.4 Chapter 4. Protecting and Watching Badgers). The mesh has the advantage of stopping the badgers opening more holes in the field, and helps strengthen the soil, thereby reducing the risk of machinery or livestock collapsing into the tunnels. A licence would now be required for this sett 'interference' action, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Scottish or Welsh Office. As this represents only minor alteration to the sett tunnels and no alteration to the main part of the sett, it is likely that licences may be granted more freely on inspection than would be the case for sett destruction and killing/taking of badgers. The other approach is to shallow plough over sett entrances each year, since this is unlikely to injure the badgers. However, this still requires a licence; where it is known that this is likely to occur, a licence should be applied for in advance. Where a newly excavated sett, or sett entrance, is ploughed by mistake, this should be reported to the relevant Agricultural Department as soon as possible after the event.

If this is a persistent problem, a trench should be dug between the field and the sett, and a wall of chain link, badger or pig fencing inserted to stop the badgers digging in that direction. The trench can then be filled in again. The depth of the trench is dependent on the type of soil, but with most such problems the tunnels are less than a metre deep.

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6.6 Badger damage to levees, road and railway embankments

Badgers may dig setts into the sides of roads and railway embankments or flood levees alongside major rivers. This is particularly common in flat country where the embankments provide the only sloping ground for several kilometres around, and naturally the badgers use them to dig their setts. With roads, the hard metalled surface often also provides the desired hard stratum for the roof of the tunnel. Problems may occur if the weight of the traffic causes subsidence into the weakened embankment. In some cases this subsidence may be extensive and require urgent action; roads have been closed for long periods following subsidence caused by badgers. In the past, to repair this sort of damage setts were often dug out, the bank rebuilt, and the sides of the bank covered with wire netting to stop the badgers trying to dig back in. However, where suitable sett sites are limited e.g. in marshy areas or flat country, the badgers would often excavate a new sett further along the embankment where there was no netting to stop them. In addition, it was usually necessary to strengthen the embankments to prevent further subsidence.

Repeated road-repair operations such as this are expensive, and in Northern Ireland an alternative approach has been tried with success. Where the subsidence was localised, the road surface was removed to a depth of 30 centimetres, and pre-cast concrete slabs inserted to reinforce the road surface. Where the subsidence was more extensive, long stretches of reinforced concrete 25 centimetres thick were laid. In one instance this was for a distance of over 100 metres. Whilst these operations are expensive, overall the cost is less than that for repeated repair operations. It also has the benefit of leaving the badgers in their preferred sett site. For further details of these operations, contact the Environment Service of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (see Chapter 11. Useful Addresses).

With flood levees, the weakening of the bank can form a likely route for water to break through when pressure is increased, and simply patching or reinforcing the levee is rarely a practical option. In the case of new excavations, the tunnels should not be allowed to develop to a degree where the badgers can occupy them, but should be filled in with rubble and concrete. After filling the holes, the affected bank(s) and others that are at risk should be covered with pig, sheep or chain link fencing, securely pegged down and with the edges wired together; the vegetation is then allowed to grow through. This can be very expensive if a large area is involved, but it may be the only solution to prevent further problems. If the badgers have occupied a sett in such an area, there are three options available. Firstly, steel sheet piling can sometimes be used on flood levees to stop the badgers tunnelling too near the water. The second is to exclude the badgers from the sett as described on 5.7 Chapter 5. Badgers in the Way, and then the sett can be filled in and the bank covered with netting as described above. One useful approach may be to leave one section of bank that is less sensitive without a wire cover, or to have a specially constructed bank to encourage the badgers to dig where it matters least, or even better have a specially constructed bank containing an artificial sett (see fig 25. Chapter 9. Useful Techniques). The final option is to re-align the levee, leaving the section where the sett is. This is sometimes a practical option, and was done recently by the Severn Trent Water Authority. It only cost 2,000, so was not particularly expensive, and was clearly more desirable from the conservation stand-point.

Continuous maintenance or surveillance should detect problems early enough to be able to correct them during the period July to November inclusive, and road/railway/water engineers should be made aware of the legal and biological problems if any action has to be taken during the breeding season if remedial work is delayed. However, in the event of a real emergency with human life or safety at risk, and with any delay increasing that risk, then action and even the careful excavation of the sett may have to be considered during the breeding season. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (or Scottish or Welsh Offices) would have to be consulted first, and they would advise that the presence on site of a veterinary surgeon or an RSPCA, SSPCA or USPCA inspector may be desirable during the work, so that he/she can deal with any cubs found during the excavation. However, with adequate surveillance and early preventative action, such events should be few and far between.

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6.7 Badger removal for disease control

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is allowed under the 1992 Act to license in England the killing or taking of badgers or interference with badger setts 'for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease'. In Scotland or Wales licences would be granted by the Scottish or Welsh Office. Currently, badgers are being destroyed in a campaign to reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, since there is strong circumstantial evidence that badgers are a reservoir of this disease. They are humanely trapped by Ministry officials. Any sows recognised as being lactating are then released so that they can go back to their dependent cubs, whilst the other badgers are shot by an expert. Under the 'interim strategy' developed by the Dunnet committee, badgers were trapped solely on farms where there had been an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis in the cattle and where there was considered from past experience to have been badger involvement (i.e., badgers had been recorded nearby with the disease). A new strategy involving the use of a blood test to identify positive groups of badgers was announced at the time this booklet went to press. Under this strategy the trapping and killing of badgers will, in some areas, be extended to neighbouring farms where testing shows badgers are infected. Oral vaccination of badgers is being tested in Eire and the current long term plan is to develop a vaccine for use in Britain. It should be remembered that badgers do not carry bovine tuberculosis everywhere in Britain, but only in certain small areas, largely in south-west England. It would be an offence for badgers to be killed under the supposition that they may carry disease. Only Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food staff have this legal facility, and they only instigate badger control operations after consideration of all the facts.

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