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Colin Varndell introduces us to Dorset's badger clans

PUBLISHED: 14:17 18 February 2013 | UPDATED: 22:15 26 February 2013

Badger cubs at play

Badger cubs at play

Wildlife photographer Colin Varndell has spent many years observing Dorset's badger clans, he gives us the low down on this elusive nocturnal mammal

Colin Varndell introduces us to Dorset's badger clans


Wildlife photographer Colin Varndell has spent many years observing Dorsets badger clans, he gives us the low down on this elusive nocturnal mammal

The badger is a member of the mustelid family, which also includes stoat, weasel, polecat and otter. Fossil remains of badger at least 250,000 years old have been found, indicating that this wild animal has been around for a long time.

The badger is almost totally nocturnal, apart from during mid-summer when short nights may force it out into the open before dusk. In fact, this animal is so committed to darkness that if you encounter an adult badger out and about in broad daylight then there is almost certainly something wrong with it.

An adult badger measures 75-93cm long and stands 30cm high at the shoulder. When seen in the dimness of dusk the badger may appear to be black and white. Its body is however, red brown, covered with coarse black and silver hairs. The badgers head is distinct, being pure white with two tapering black stripes running from ear to muzzle.

Badgers live in underground dens or sets, which are usually excavated in woodland or on steep roadside hedgerow banks in country lanes. Their living quarters are lined with bedding material, which is collected in the form of bracken, dry leaves and vegetation. The animal carries this material by holding it between its chin and front paws shuffling backwards. New bedding material is most often collected during autumn but may be gathered at any time of year.

The badger is the only British mustelid which is not a hunter. Its bulky size and shape, makes it essentially a forager. Even though it can eat practically any wild animal or bird it can catch, its ability to hunt down and capture prey is extremely limited.

This animal is so committed to darkness that if you encounter an adult badger out and about in broad daylight then there is almost certainly something wrong with it

It is omnivorous in its diet taking acorns, beech mast, wild fruits and often digs for succulent roots. It will eat a wide range of animals if it can get them, but its favourite food is earthworms. As long as weather conditions are mild and damp they can happily grub up earthworms and other invertebrates. However, prolonged dry spells or hard frosts will drive them elsewhere in search of food, often resulting in their annoying habit of dustbin raiding.

The badger finds its way around by senses of hearing and smell. The direction and strength of the wind is therefore vitally important to them. On a windy night they may be reluctant to emerge from underground at all, as turbulent air currents churn up the smells of the night.

Badgers mark their territories with latrines. A latrine may be used by more than one family or social group, marking the place where two or more territories meet.

Badgers do not hibernate, and in fact become quite active in mid winter when work on preparations for a breeding chamber takes place. A fresh chamber is made ready as a nursery by digging it afresh or enlarging an existing chamber. Either way, this activity accounts for fresh earth outside sets in mid winter. Cubs are born in February, but do not appear above ground until April when they stay close to their mother to begin with. At first, cubs do not wander far from the set, but gradually explore further and further afield, until eventually they accompany their mother on her night time sorties.

It is commonly believed that badgers prey on hedgehogs and that they turn their hapless prey inside out to avoid the sharp prickles. There are however some considerations which throw doubt on such suggestions. Firstly, the badger is a very noisy individual when foraging, as it crashes through the undergrowth, at the same time constantly emitting grunts and squeals. Most self-respecting hedgehogs would be long gone before the badger came anywhere near them. The inside out suggestion is also practically impossible. It is much more likely that should a badger encounter a hedgehog in the defensive rolled up position, it would prize it open with its powerful claws and simply turn it over to eat at the hedgehogs stomach. This way all that would be left of the hedgehog would be its flattened hide.

Sadly, most sightings of badgers are dead ones. Badgers frequently use well trodden paths and tracks, including country roads where they are no match for fast moving heavy vehicles. Badger road casualties tend to be more frequent in early summer when they are at their most active and move around far more than at other times of the year.

The badger is a nervous creature, and always prefers to run away when danger threatens. However, when cornered it can become ferocious and will fight tenaciously to defend itself. Hence the barbaric practice of badger baiting when badgers were captured and pitted against fierce dogs to fight for their lives - which thankfully is long outlawed.

Albino badgers are generally not pure white but appear to be cream or sandy coloured. This is no doubt due in part by the fur becoming stained by soil in their underground habits. However, a true albino badger will have a distinct pink snout. Dorset is one of the few counties in the UK where albino badgers occur regularly. There are sets in the Dorchester area where albino individuals have been regularly recorded from as far back as 1962 to the present time. The area around Beaminster in West Dorset is also well known for its white badgers.

Badgers occur in woods and copses throughout Dorset, however, they are most abundant in the north and west of the county where the more undulating terrain is more suited to their needs.

To see more of Colins photography and to find out about his photodays and wildlife photography workshops visit his websitecolinvarndell.co.uk

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