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Badger Setts

At a glance

Badgers live underground in a sett. Badger setts consists of a network of tunnels with numerous entrances dug into the soil.

Most setts are dug in woodlands or hedgerows where trees or their roots provide the badger with some form of protection. The largest setts can provide living space for fifteen or more badgers with up to 300 metres of tunnels and as many as forty openings.

One well-documented sett in Oxfordshire’s Whytham Woods spreads over an estimated area of more than 2,000 square metres Such elaborate setts take many years to build and may be continuously occupied for more than a century.

Setts are where cubs are born. Nesting chambers within a sett are usually filled with bedding materials to keep the badger insulated, off the wet soil and  minimize draughts.

This is especially important for small cubs, who would lose heat quickly if they did not have warm bedding or if they were left out in the open. Cubs are born from late January to early March, with the majority in the first half of February.

Badger social groups normally have one main sett that is in use all year round, and several other setts that are not always active.

There are a number of signs observers look for to determine whether or not a sett is active:

  • Smooth sides around any entrance holes from repeated use;
  • Freshly excavated soil heaps around entrance holes;
  • Fresh bedding, for example grass, near the sett entrance;
  • Evidence of runs radiating out from entrance holes;
  • Signs of trampling and/or footprints at entrance holes and down into the sett

Disturbing a badger sett is a crime

Badgers were given limited protection in 1973, but weaknesses in the law meant that badger setts were still being dug, bulldozed, or blocked. Setts were (and still are) targeted by badger baiters who send terriers down to locate where a badger may be hiding, and some landowners blocked entrances before, for example, gassing any badgers inside by running a hose from a vehicle exhaust into the remaining open tunnel..

The law was significantly strengthened by the passing of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 which makes it an offence to:

  • Dig for a badger
  • Intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy a badger sett, or obstruct access to it
  • Cause a dog to enter a badger sett
  • Disturb a badger when it is occupying a sett

 

Sett disturbance is the most reported crime under the Act, and can fall under the category of both malicious and negligent crimes. Offences under the Act could lead to a person being sent to prison for up to 6 months and receive an unlimited fine.

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