The European Badger (Meles Meles) is one of the most iconic mammals in the UK. They are large mammals with grey fur, a black and white striped face, and a short fluffy tail. They are part of the mustelid group of animals, which includes otters, ferrets, martens, weasels, and wolverines.
Mankind’s Impact on the European Badger
The European Badger population has never been under threat of extinction in the British Isles. However, they have long been persecuted by poachers and hunters, illegally digging out their setts using dogs. In 1973 the Badger Protection Act was introduced and was followed up in 1981 with the Wildlife & Countryside Act, and 1992 with the Protection of Badgers Act. These laws protect not only the Badger but also their setts.
Despite these laws being in place, European Badgers remain a controversial subject in the UK, in particular for farmers. Badgers carry the Bovine Tuberculosis disease and consequently has resulted in government-sponsored culls of badgers to try and limit the spread to livestock. In March 2020, the UK Government changed its approach and implemented a strategy of vaccination as opposed to culling, which is obviously good news for the Badger!
Badgers preferred food is earthworms and can eat more than 200 worms in a single night. However, they are opportunistic omnivorous feeders and will eat slugs, snails, and even fallen fruit. This is particularly the case during the winter months when ground conditions are harsh. They normally forage crepuscularly and nocturnally but will eat during the day if food is in short supply.
Badgers are also thought to be the main cause of the decline of the hedgehog in the British Isles. Because badgers have long claws and quite thick skin, they can deal with the hedgehog spines.
The Badger is resident across the majority of the British Isles, with the main population densities in the South West of England as well as Ireland. They are notably absent from the Scottish Islands, as well as parts of the mainland. Likewise, they are absent from most of the Isles around England
The conditions across the United Kingdom suit badgers, hence their distribution. They thrive in a variety of environments including farmland, meadows, grasslands, orchards, and even in towns.
Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the UK, whereby dark green indicates denser populations and lighter greens indicate progressively lower populations.
Badgers are fastidious about keeping their setts tidy. A good sign of an active set is the clean doorways with piles of used bedding stacked outside. Badgers tend to favor the use of a latrine, which is often located nearby their sett. Albeit, in times of cold weather, they do create latrines inside the sett to avoid venturing outside. Badgers do not hibernate, instead, they reduce body activity and use up their fat reserves built during the summer and autumn months.
European Badgers are quite unique amongst the mustelids, in that they are highly social. If food sources permit, they will live in large clans. However, whilst they live socially, there is no cooperation amongst them for food.
Mating peaks in the Spring, with litters normally being born the following year in February. Normally, only one female in a clan will reproduce successfully, bearing 1-3 young. They are independent after 4-5 months, and unlike other social groups, cubs need to be able to fend for themselves after this time; with no help from the other clan members.
Adults range from 0.7 to 1m in length and weigh between 6 to 7 kg in summer, but virtually double this in weight during the winter months. Their lifespan is up to 8 years, though in captivity they can live 16 upwards to 20 years.
European Badger Natural Predators
The European Badger has no natural predators in the British Isles.
Where & When To Photograph The European Badger
With Badgers being so widespread, you can pretty much photograph them anywhere in the British Isles, but obviously requires some local knowledge of the location of setts. Of course, if you are lucky enough to have them visit your garden this is a bonus.
Because Badgers emerge to forage on a crepuscular and nocturnal basis, your best bet of spotting them is during the early evening. The best time of year being between April and August when they are most active.
As a reliable alternative, there are dedicated hides available and offer a pretty unique experience to see Badgers during the day. For instance, the Daytime Badger Hide in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. Search the web for similar hides in your local area. Again, these tend to operate during the active season.
Camera & Settings
If you are photographing the European Badger in a dedicated daytime hide, then a lens with a reach of 300-400mm is recommended. Also, a tripod for stability. Evening and nighttime photography can be a little more tricky. Even with an IR camera, there are normally no urban light sources. For this reason, many use full-spectrum cameras. These are cameras with an extended range of light sensitivity. Alternatively, the use of strategically placed flashguns and a regular camera can yield reasonable results. Lens-wise, something in the range of 400mm will normally be sufficient. Most modern cameras have enough pixels captured to crop in.
For daytime shooting on any type of nature photography, I tend to photograph in auto-focus and on AI Servo to continuously track movement. I use an expanded center point rather than a center spot or maximum focal points for most nature photography. Using speed priority as a general rule and set the speed based on the focal length of the lens as well as the amount of activity of the animal. For nighttime shooting, you may need to switch to manual focus, as conventional cameras cannot autofocus in very low light.
Map distribution data and behavioral references based upon JNCC data.