It is said that the badger, Meles meles, is one of Britain's most popular animals. Loved by many, this beautiful animal is comparatively widespread across both England and Wales (with some isolated populations in Scotland). Sadly, the badger is frequently harmed by man - sometimes by accident and on other occasions with cruel intention. All too often, the only time this shy, nocturnal animal is seen is as a dead body by the side of the road.
Persecuted by man for a host of dubious reasons for centuries - to the extend of almost being wiped out to extinction on several occasions throughout history - Britain's badgers are once again under threat. This time, the threat does not come solely through illegal badger baiting, a cruel 'sport' with no real purpose other than to satisfy the bloodlust of some deranged individuals, but through a proposed cull. But more of that later...
Badgers can grow to a length of up to 75 cm (30 in), with a tail approximately 15 cm (6 in) long. They can weigh as much as 10 - 12 kg ( 22 - 26.5 lb). Their coat of coarse black and white hair can give them an appearance of being grey when seen from a distance. Females - or sows - are a little smaller than males - boars - and tend to have a shorter, bushier tail, with the male's tail usually being thinner, longer and pointed, with more white.
Face, head, underside and leg hair is shorter than the hair on the back of the badger, which can grow up to 7.5 cm (just under 3 in) long and features a pointed black tip. The chest and forepaws of this gorgeous creature are black, while the head features prominent black and white stripes, and white tips on the ears. Badgers have five toes with long, powerful claws that are non-retractable and are used for digging.
They live in setts, which are complex underground systems of tunnels and nesting chambers lined with grass, leaves and moss. These setts are typically dug into slopes - often involving tons of soil being shifted - near copses and woods, in particular if they are close to pasture land. Occasionally, they can be found in abandoned quarries, and urbanisation means they can also be found near farmland or in suburban areas.
In addition to the main sett, where a clan of badgers - usually around 6 adults and however many cubs, although some clans may include up to 20 adults - live, there is often also a secondary outer sett containing fewer nesting chambers than the main sett.
Classed as carnivores due to their large canine teeth, Badgers are actually omnivorous, meaning they will eat anything they can find. They are foragers, rather than active hunters, and their diet includes roots, fruits, bulbs, beech mast and acorns; wasps, snails, frogs, mice, voles, beetles and earthworms.
While mating times may vary, this animal typically mates some time between February and July. Implantation is then delayed for between two and 10 months, usually resulting in the sows becoming pregnant in December. Once properly pregnant, the sow will give birth to two or three cubs after about seven weeks, usually some time between January and March.
The young, or cubs, are born blind and have just a little fir, which is dirty white in colour, on their back. Sometimes, the cubs make whickering, high-pitched noises. Adults tend to purr when they are happy, or make deep growling or barking sounds to warn intruders off.
Cubs will begin exploring the sett at the tender age of 6 to 7 weeks, going as far as the sett entrance by the time they reach 8 weeks. As a rule, they will not leave the sett until they are around 9 to 10 weeks old, and they will remain close to their mothers even then. Many of the cubs die within their first year. Those that survive circumstances and manage not to be killed by farmers or hunters and their dogs can live for five or more years.
On reaching adulthood, young boars will challenge the leader of the clan for his position in the established hierarchy. More often than not, challengers will be forced to leave the clan. Their options then include joining another clan, forming their own clan or living alone, although the latter is comparatively rare.
Like their relatives, which include pine martens, otters, weasels, stoats and polecats, badgers have musk-bearing glands below their tails. They also have a second pair of musk glands near their anus. The scent of the musk secreted from these glands helps members of a clan to recognise each other. It is also used to mark the clan's home range in an effort to deter non-members of the clan from stealing food or mating with the females.
While the home range is an area clan members will use at some point or another, it may not be defended as fiercely as the territory, which is essentially the main area surrounding the sett and the location of the females.
In addition to being needlessly hunted and slaughtered by farmers and hunters, the British government is now proposing to cull 7 out of every 10 badgers in a completely misguided effort to eradicate what is known as bovine TB. This disease affects cattle. Unfortunately, it is passed on to badgers by cattle, ultimately resulting in badgers occasionally passing it back to herds.
This cull is estimated to mean death for at least 130,000 badgers, reducing numbers in the south west of the country by around half, with an expected reduction of about a third of the population across England. Many local areas may end up losing all of their badger populations. In addition, thousands of these beautiful creatures could be left with crippling injuries, or be left to die a slow, painful death.
Going through with this cull will only have one result - it will decimate badgers. It will not, in any way or under any circumstances, help to eradicate bovine TB. There are better, more humane ways to deal with this disease. One of these ways would be to put the funds required to set up this senseless cull into developing an effective vaccine.
Whichever way readers decide to help is irrelevant, as long as they do something and do it quickly - time is running out fast for badgers!