One of the best-loved though seldom seen inhabitants of the countryside, the badger is one of the oldest and can be found locally. A member of the same family as the weasel, stoat, pine marten and otter, it is carnivorous by dentition but omnivorous by diet. It has the well-known striking black and white mask and a thick coat of grey fur. It is heavily built, with short sturdy legs and trundles along with a distinctive bear-like gait, but has quite a turn of speed when necessary. It has strong claws, which it uses with great effect to excavate its burrows or 'setts', which in some cases extend to over 1km in length, may have over 100 entrances and is kept meticulously clean, with outside latrines. Badger setts can therefore be very extensive indeed, and are often occupied by many generations. In fact some setts, which were recorded as such in the Domesday Book, are still in use today.
The badger has a very varied diet indeed which includes young rabbits, frogs, birds eggs, nuts, fruit, even bees and wasps, but one of its prime foods is undoubtedly the earthworm, of which an adult badger may consume over 200 in a night of 'hoovering' grassland.
Primarily nocturnal, typical behaviour is for the boar to be the first to emerge at dusk, often very tentatively sniffing the air to detect the scent of any unwelcome visitor nearby. The sow, and any cubs that may be present usually follow him. The adults are then likely to wander off in search of food, while the cubs may be seen playing, rolling and scampering around. Badgers do not hibernate, in the true sense of the word, but in severe weather they do sometimes sleep for a few days.
Sadly, the badger is a carrier of bovine TB and consequently culling is sometimes approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) although the benefits of such measures are at best in doubt. Some investigations have appeared to show that when an area is cleared of badgers - which is very difficult to do - badgers from surrounding areas will move in to take their place. If there are infected animals among them, the disease is likely to be spread even more. However, research is in progress to develop a vaccine. The badger is protected by law, and neither they nor their setts must be damaged or disturbed.