Quick facts

Common name: badger

Scientific name: Meles meles

Family: Mustelidae

Habitat: broadleaved woodland, farmland, towns and gardens

Diet: worms, invertebrates, small mammals, fruit

Predators: adults have no predators; cubs sometimes taken by foxes and large birds of prey

Origin: native

What do badgers look like?

With its characteristic black and white-striped face, grey fur and short furry tail, the badger looks like no other UK mammal. Stocky, powerfully-built creatures, they typically weigh 10–12kg, with a body length of about 90cm. This makes them the biggest land predator in the UK.

What do badgers eat?

Badgers are omnivores, which means they will eat a wide range of food. Around 80% of a badger’s diet is made up of earthworms – they can eat hundreds of them in a single night – but they also eat slugs and other invertebrates.

Fruit features in the badger's diet too, including pears, apples, plums and elderberries. Elder bushes can often be found growing near badger setts. When earthworms are scarce, badgers will eat small mammals like voles and rabbits. They are also the main predator of hedgehogs in the UK. Badgers locate food using their keen sense of smell and sharp claws that are ideal for digging.

Male badger eating peanuts

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Badger mother and cubs emerging from their sett

Credit: Kevin Keatley / WTML

How do badgers breed?

Badgers live in social groups, typically made up of around four to seven individuals. Mating occurs year-round, predominantly between February and May. During courtship, the male badger will pursue the female, biting the nape of her neck.

After mating, a process known as delayed implantation occurs. This means cubs will not be born until January or February, regardless of when mating took place. Youngsters will stay underground for around two months before first emerging. Cubs typically reach maturity at just over one year old. Some will stay with the family, while others will disperse to find new territory.

Did you know?

Badgers clean out their sleeping areas, dragging out old hay, bracken, grass and anything they’ve used as bedding by carrying it under their chin. This prevents a build-up of fleas and lice.

Where do badgers live?

Badgers are found across the UK, with the highest numbers in southern England. Ideal badger habitat is a mixture of woodland and open country.

The species lives in a network of underground burrows and tunnels know as a sett. Each badger territory will include a main sett and several smaller outlying setts. The main sett is the group’s headquarters, where they spend most of their time and rear their young. Outlying setts are smaller and provide a safe place to retreat to if needed when badgers are out foraging. Setts tend to be located in the shelter of woodland, with the badgers emerging at night to forage in fields and meadows.

Though not as common as urban foxes, badgers can also survive in towns and cities, providing there is suitable cover in which to dig their setts, and nearby gardens and parks where they can hunt for food.

Signs and spotting tips

Badgers are strictly nocturnal and extremely wary of humans. Follow our spotting tips for your best chance of sighting them.

  • Time of day/time of year: Badgers are nocturnal and rarely seen in the day. During warm summer weather they may emerge from the sett a short while before sunset.
  • Setts: One of the best ways to spot a badger is to locate a sett and quietly wait for the inhabitants to emerge, usually around dusk. Position yourself downwind of the sett if possible, as this will prevent the badgers from picking up your scent. Always maintain a respectful distance when badger watching as these are shy animals and it is against the law to disturb them and their setts.
  • Tracks: Keep an eye out for badger tracks when visiting the woods – they might just lead you to a badger sett! Badger prints are fairly distinctive: they have kidney-shaped pads, five upward-pointing toes and long claws. 
  • Scat: Badgers often deposit their scat (poo) in communal areas know as latrines. These are often located at the border between the territories of different groups. Look out for areas of disturbed ground with scat deposited in small holes. 

Threats and conservation

Historical persecution means badgers are now fully protected by law. This has helped the UK population to grow, roughly doubling since the 1980s. However, many badgers are killed by cars and illegal persecution does still occur.

There are also concerns by some that badgers are responsible for spreading bovine tuberculosis to cattle. This has led to badger culls taking place in certain areas. 

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