Roy Thompson for Whistlefish
Badgers live in small groups, in underground setts, with many entrance and exit points. However, they never use them to eat or go to the toilet, keeping it clean for all residents (sounds better than some men!) They also change the bedding frequently to keep the sett clean, and often line the ‘beds’ with grass and leaves for a good (day’s!) sleep.
Not found in the Scottish Highlands or Channel Islands, badgers have been around for 250,000 years, although they were hunted for years by German ‘badger hounds’ (aka sausage dogs) who would flush them out of their setts. Despite the culling, badgers are protected so you can report any harm you see to any wildlife at Crimewatch (or anonymously if preferred).
Badgers eat fruit (they like elderberries) and birds’ eggs, but their favourite food is earthworms. Like moles, they have wonderful claws for digging, and this means alas they are not deterred by the spines of hedgehogs, which they also like to eat. But mostly they eat several hundred worms a night, which makes their poo all thick and slimy! Cubs are born in winter and spend a few months underground, before venturing out into the countryside.
Do Badgers Cause Cattle TB?
TB is a horrible disease that affects millions of cattle, who suffer greatly and then farmers have to put them to sleep. Whatever your beliefs on the farming industry, there is no doubt this issue needs to be solved.
The problem is that politics has taken over, with badgers being blamed for spreading the disease. In fact, bovine TB exists on the Isle of Man (where there are no badgers). And all experts agree that the main ways to prevent bovine TB is through vaccination (cheaper than culling) and through better methods of farming to prevent transmission of disease.
It pays to look to history. Many years ago, TB in cattle hardly existed. This suggests that modern farming methods are the main cause. When the government decided to cull badgers in their masses, they were warned that apart from being cruel, it would not work. It didn’t, but even now many politicians and farmers continue to wish for a cull to continue.
The truth is that one Devon farmer found the likely solution many years ago, so wrote to the Environmental minister of his findings, but she never replied. Just imagine the different outcome, if she had?
Knowing that badgers loved the crop maize (but it gives low immunity against disease), Dick Roper installed ‘mineral licks’ on his cattle farm, and watched as badgers found and loved them. The immunity of the badgers improved. As a result, in the midst of the bovine cattle crisis, his herd remained TB-free.
Tips to Help Prevent Cattle TB
Methods of better cattle-to-cattle transmission (and vaccination) are supported by many experts including TV wildlife presenter Simon King and Queen guitarist Brian May (a qualified scientist). Solutions include:
- Working with people who know about badgers! Badger Trust is a leading voice in England and Wales and has 60 local groups that offer expert advice on all badger issues. It does not support culling, and also works to help badgers through preventing habitat loss and safer roads.
- The Badger Vaccination Project says that its methods are far more effective than culls. It costs around £200 to trap, vaccinate and release a badger. This also reduces risk of the animals having cubs that may contract the disease, and pass it onto cattle.
- Can the Cull is a campaign by the Badger Trust, where you can read all the scientific arguments why badger culls don’t work for badgers, cattle or farmers. Over 140,000 badgers have been killed since 2012, using flawed science. Yet 94% of cattle infections are from cow-to-cow. Scientists and vets are now asking the public to help educate the government, to secure better regulated cattle movement and testing, effective slurry management and cattle vaccination.
- TB Hub is a site for farmers, where you can read up on the 5 laws to prevent cattle TB infection. This involves restricting access from infected badgers (via barriers), properly managed cattle feed and water, and reducing infections from cattle manure. .
- Homeopathy at Wellie Level offers homeopathy courses for farmers. It doesn’t deal specifically with TB, but many farmers are fans, after using their services. One Irish farmer healed his herd of mastitis. He then thought it was a coincidence so gave it up. His herd got sick again, so he went back and now is a lifelong customer.
- Read The Badger Book to learn more about England’s largest carnivore. Alongside beautiful photography, the book covers the science (and politics) around bTB and the controversial badger cull, as well as letting you meet volunteers dedicated to rescuing them.
10 years of study, the leading scientific brains – all said the cull of badgers will do nothing to improve the condition of cows. Simon King
Other Ways to Help Badgers
Band of Badgers by Catriona Hall for Green Pebble
- Should you feed visiting badgers to your garden? A bit like all wildlife (and birds), it’s best to let them find their own food (England has plenty of worms!) This means they won’t rely on you if you moved, got ill or died. Obviously in severe weather, then do help (The Badger Trust recommends leaving out water and covered cat biscuits (not nuts that could choke nearby birds and pets).
- If a small dog has gone down a sett, call your local badger group for advice, as wrong actions could harm dog and badger. Do not dig – instead identify the hole and keep an eye on it, until help arrives. Stay nearby as most dogs come out for food and water (or if they hear you call or rattle a favourite toy).
- If you find a trapped injured badger, don’t cut it free as it may run off injured and later develop pressure necrosis (where the skin dies and open wounds appear). Instead call your local local wildlife rescue team for help (or failing that, the nearest vet).