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Badger (Meles meles)

Instantly recognisable, the badger is one of our most popular mammals.

Scientific name: Meles meles

Family: Mustelidae

Appearance

With their characteristic black and white-striped face and grey fur, the badger looks like no other UK mammal. Stocky, powerfully-built creatures, they typically weigh 10-12kg, with a whole body length of about 90cm.

Where and how to spot

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 setts in which they sleep tend to be located in the shelter of woodland, with the badgers then emerging at night to forage in the 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 gardens and parks where they can hunt for food. Find out more about where badgers live here.

Badgers are strictly nocturnal and extremely wary of humans. To catch a glimpse, your best chance is to locate a sett and quietly wait for the inhabitants to emerge 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.

Feeding

Badgers are opportunistic omnivores and will eat a wide variety of foods. Earthworms are a favoured prey, but they will take everything from rabbits and rodents to apples and acorns. Learn more about what badgers eat here.

Behaviour and breeding

Badgers live in social groups, typically made up of four to seven individuals. Unusually, the species gives birth to its young in winter, with one to five cubs normally born in February. The youngsters will stay underground for around two months and then first emerge in spring. Once mature, some cubs will stay with the family, while others will set out to find a new territory. Badgers have been known to survive for up to 14 years, but the species will usually live no longer than six

Threats

Historical persecution means badgers are fully protected by law. This has helped the UK population to grow, roughly doubling over the past 30 years. However, many badgers are killed by cars and illegal persecution does still occur. There are concerns that badgers are responsible for spreading bovine tuberculosis to cattle, leading to culls taking place in certain areas. See the Woodland Trust’s position statement on this issue.

Did you know?

• Like pigs, male badgers are known as ‘boars’, while females are called ‘sows’.

• Both foxes and rabbits have been known to live alongside badgers in their setts.

• The name badger is thought to have derived from the French 'bêcheur', meaning 'digger'. In old English, the species was known as ‘brock’.