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Badger Surveys

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James Lowen explores the lives of badgers and their communal living, feeding habits and threats to their conservation. Click here to buy:
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A Badger Survey will be needed if some-one is seeking planning permission; and badgers or a badger sett would be affected by the building of what is planned. The word "affected" includes anything from the trivial to the lethal. For example, in the case of the "trivial", the badgers may be startled by extra traffic noise on a nearby road. In the case of the serious, this may be the last resort of the badger sett being destroyed in order to make way for the planned works.

Are badgers present in the area?

Essentially, the survey is first concerned with establishing whether badgers are actually present.

For a recognised badger expert, the presence of Badgers is usually relatively easy to determine, and will often involve them looking for:

  • setts (or other large burrows)

  • lots of soil, mud and imprinted paths outside the setts

  • bedding/hay in mounds (perhaps a mixture of old and new bedding materials)

  • badger hairs in mounds of soil or old bedding material

  • latrines into which Badgers defecate (holes in the ground or scrapes in soil)

  • distinctive hairs - usually with a white root, black band, white tip (often found on fences and other rough wood)

The survey will need to establish the complete and total extent to which the badgers are in and using a particular area; as it will also need to establish setts, feeding and foraging areas. To be of any real value, the survey needs to have been done by a professional, such as a Badger Group or a Badger Consultant.

Is a badger sett actually in use?

First the badger surveyor needs to ascertain whether the sett in question is in use, by looking for evidence. This may be obvious from newly dug soil and stones at the entrances, signs of fresh or changed bedding, new footprints and fresh poo on nearby badger paths or in nearby latrines. Otherwise thin sticks can be placed across entrances at dusk to check for activity during the night; when the animals emerge the sticks will be pushed aside; often catching a bit of loose hair to identify the animal as a badger, and not just a fox or a rabbit. Arranging for a badger consultant to do a survey should not, in itself need a licence, although further works may well do so.

Wooden and wire fences and stone boundary walls will also need to be checked for the presence of badger hairs and scratch marks. These will help determine the territorial usage and the boundaries of the territory.

In addition, the surveyor may place smoothed sand on the path to check for footprints, sticky tapes across entrances and paths (to collect loose hairs). This smoothed sand will show animal footprints, which will help record whether badgers have been through, and it will also be useful to help point towards the presence of other species (such as rabbits, foxes, dogs, and perhaps even things like voles etc). In the winter months (especially in December), badgers may remain "holed-up" in the warm for several days, so the survey may turn into an extended affair; particularly if daily field-based observations are being made by the surveyor too.

Bait marking

The extent of the size and usage of the territory can be assessed by using so-called bait marking techniques. Here food (such as honey-coated plain peanuts) may be marked with a small harmless coloured plastic pellet. When the badgers eat the marked food, their territory is surveyed to see where the pellets are found, which denotes where the badgers are pooing; and therefore the extent of their territorial boundaries. It is generally possible to restrict the food to badgers, by placing it underneath largish stones, so that smaller animals can't get to it to eat it.

With a bit of luck, the surveyor should be able to give an early indication of badger presence or absence, so that planning can start for obtaining any necessary badger licence; and timetabling other things (like planning permission and site logistics). Of course, if the sett is found to be occupied by badgers, no steps can be taken to deter them from using it without first obtaining the requisite licence from English Nature.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

Planning is important is the presence of badgers is suspected, because the presence of underground tunnels may give rise to unforeseen problems. As well as he risk of machinery and equipment causing damage to the badgers by falling into a tunnel, such accidents also give rise to enormous human health and safety risks; and provide a big unknown in terms of financial risks and risks to timescales. Badgerland would always advise any developer to get a full badger survey done as one of the first major tasks on the project; as this will usually provide very useful information as to what development may be allowed; and whether it is worth developing the land at all.

Badger Licences

Before any badger licence is formally applied for, it is necessary to make a thorough survey of the area to establish the territorial boundaries of the badger social groups using the area and the distribution of all the local setts (in addition to the problem one) and their status. This is to determine which, if any, are in use and to see if there is an alternative sett to which the badgers could move within their own territory. It is no good expecting them to take over a sett in the next, occupied, territory; as they will be persecuted with extreme vigour by the neighbouring clan - probably resulting in serious injuries and several deaths. Each group of badgers will usually have a main sett plus several subsidiary or outlying setts. There may not always be an annexe sett. Only the main sett is likely to be in continuous use, and it is threats to the main sett which pose the greatest problem. If it is an annexe, subsidiary or outlying sett which is being threatened, then it is fairly easy to persuade the badgers to abandon the threatened sett without moving off their territory. Often, if the sett is of low status, all the new activity around the area may in itself provide the necessary persuasion to abandon it, at least for the timetable of the works.

The survey itself will then be exceptionally useful in obtaining planning permission, and the planning officers will normally require it to be submitted as part of the planning application. The survey will also form part of the licence application with English Nature.

How long does a survey remain valid for?

However, it is also important to realise that the survey is only "good" at the date it was done, and it is likely to become out-of-date (or less reliable) if building works are extended in either scope or time.

Whilst a main badger sett is likely to remain in continuous use for decades, an outlier sett may be used on and off throughout the year. The consultant who writes the report should be able to recommend a re-survey interval depending on their findings. For a long term development - especially one which would affect badger movements or feeding patterns - we would recommend that the consultant is retained to do interim reports on how the badgers are dealing with the disruption; and whether a new survey is needed.

Accordingly, we would recommend that a Badger Consultant is retained for the duration of all medium to long-term building projects; as they will often be able to head off any problems at an early stage; and hopefully before any criminal breach of The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 occurs.

Are cheap "fixed price" surveys any good?

Regarding the commissioning of a badger survey (or a survey of any protected species), good surveys can take a variable amount of time to perform. The time taken will depend on the size of the area to be surveyed, the height and density of any vegetation and the accessibility of the total land area. Of course, different organisations may provide different estimates for performing a badger survey; as they may be based on different hourly or daily rates for the survey work and the total amount of time they think the work will take. It can be very difficult to "calculate" a fixed price for a badger survey without first visiting the area and spending some time to work out what is needed.

Badgerland are aware of people who claim to be able to perform a badger survey for a very low fixed price. In our view paying too little for a badger survey is false economy; as the reason you need a survey is to find out whether badgers may be the cause of problems later on. You are better to spend the money on a rigorous wildlife survey FIRST. You are better to know about problems early on so you can plan your way around them, rather than be shocked and surprised by them later on. You really don't want to discover the presence of badgers AFTER you have committed large amounts of money or time on a project which may have to be changed, delayed by several months or even stopped altogether. We would therefore caution any-one against relying only on a cheap fixed price survey.

In our view a cheap fixed-price survey, strongly suggests that the consultant will not spend enough time doing the work to produce a result which can be relied upon. Accordingly, the consultants we list here are the ones we completely trust to do good work to protect badgers and help commercial clients stay within the law.

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About Wildlife Consultants
Laws protect badgers from being harmed and their homes damaged. Whilst permits can be issued to allow such badgers to be moved, you need to have professional research done to see where the badgers are and what they need. In commercial property development, finance and logistics can be very important. Also, if an insurance company is paying for re-building work, they may want to be certain that the commercial risks are understood too. Wildlife Consultants are usually highly experienced at dealing with such legal and commercial issues and should be able to help mitigate the risks. Wildlife consultants help deal with protected species, making sure that developers understand the law AND the needs of any animals. Local Badger Groups may also conduct badger surveys, and we run our own email-based Ask An Expert service.