Badgers

Badgers are this Ireland’s largest land carnivore. Arguably one of our most popular native mammals, this iconic animal is easily recognised by its distinctive black and white facial markings.


The badger's black and white-striped head really tells it apart from all other Irish mammals They are stout animals with a coarse grey coat of fur and a small, white-tipped tail. Badgers have a head-body length of around 65–80 cm and a bodyweight of 8-12 kg. The males (boars) are larger than females (sows). Their short, powerful legs have five well-developed claws on each foot, which makes them exceptional diggers.  They can easily excavate extensive networks of tunnels and chambers, called setts, which they use for shelter and breeding. Badgers and their setts are protected by law throughout Ireland. more


Badgers are very social animals that live in family groups. They are shy, nocturnal creatures that cautiously emerge from their setts at dusk to feed and groom themselves. Their extremely well developed sense of smell is used to recognise one another, find food, travel around and detect signs of danger.


Although badgers eat worms, frogs, birds' eggs, and small mammals and even carrion, they also forage for roots and berries. Because their diet it so varied, badgers do not need to travel great distances when out on their nocturnal feeding forays, and it is rare for them to go more than one or two kilometres from their home.


Female badgers collect dried grass and bracken as bedding to line the nest and keep their cubs warm. There are often several entrances to a badger sett, which may have large heaps of excavated earth close by.  Used bedding may also be found at the sett entrance. Their organised and clean lifestyle extends to using clearly defined latrines where they deposit their droppings.


From late October to late December, badgers sleep for an increasing amount of the time, but even then in mild weather they wake up and go out in search of food. They become more active from the beginning of February when their young are born. Usually only one female in a group will reproduce successfully. Cubs remain in the sett for about five weeks and emerge above ground in April or May. By late summer the cubs are able to fend for themselves, but it is common for them to remain with the mother through their first winter.


There are around 34,000 badgers in Northern Ireland, which equates to a density of only 2.4 badgers per square kilometre. Reliable data suggests that badger numbers remain stable and are not increasing.


Badgers typically live only 3-5 years. Many are killed on the roads and casualties are more common in spring and autumn when the nights are longer and the badgers are at greater risk from traffic.


Despite having strong protection in law, badgers continue to be persecuted. They remain victims of badger baiting, set digging and snaring.


Although badgers are often blamed for infecting cattle with bovine tuberculosis, there is no conclusive evidence that badgers are responsible for infecting cattle herds. There is however a compelling body of evidence that TB is spilling over from infected herds into the badger population.