Badger - Meles melesLlanelli Naturalists Newsletter - Winter 1992/1993
Janet Crowden

The European badger Meles meles is a member of the family Mustelidae, which includes the weasel Mustela nivalis stoat Mustela erminea, polecat Mustela putorius, pine marten Martes martes and otter Lutra lutra in this country.

The badger is a powerfully built omnivore, with a distinctively-marked small head, short neck and a long wedge-shaped body; its proportions make it a most efficient digger, being armed with strong limbs and long claws.

Since the 1960's there has been a decline in badger populations nationwide; this is believed due mainly to habitat destruction {woodland and hedgerows), rising road casualties and an increase in illegal persecution (digging and baiting).

Due to this decline, the National Federation of Badger Groups was set up, in October 1985 at Godistone, Surrey. The aim was to form badger protection groups in every county in the British Isles and to determine more accurate population estimates and sett numbers.

The carmarthenshire Badger Society is a member of this federation and covers the whole of the old county of Carmarthenshire. In the Llanelli area we know of approximately seventy setts, and these are checked on a regular basis by group members. The Society carries out full sett suryeys during the year, which is not an easy task due to the badgers nocturnal habits; but with regular sett watching a good relationship can be established between badger and watcher aided by a torch fitted with a red filter; badgers cannot see this red light. Any unusual information on behayiour is then shared with Dr. Stephen Harris of Bristol University, who with the Mammal Society is still compiling an on-going study of badgers. Meetings are held every two months at "Llwyn-Teg House". Regular badger watches are arranged for members (two at a time) from May until August. During the winter, talks are given and any slides or yideo's on badger conservation and natural history are shown.

The Society also helps with public information and advice to farmers and landowners who are having specific problems with badgers.

Digging and baiting are still major problems in the area, even with the passing of the new Badgers Act (Amendment, 1991) protecting the sett from all disturbance. The Society liaises with the Dyfed-Powys Police and the R.S.P.C.A. on such cases and will act as an expert witness if called upon to do so. Badger digging is a particularly nasty "sport". The general method is to introduce a terrier into the sett, where by it is challenged by a badger. The function of the dog is to hold the badger at bay whilst the diggers, with the help of a sounding rod inserted into the ground, locate the position of the dog and badger. The sett is then dug from above and both animals removed.

Occasionally, a fight is induced at the scene of the digging or maybe the badger will be takes away for any organized fight meeting at a later date.

Because the badger is a formidable opponent it has to be deliberately disabled (leg, back or jaws broken) prior to a fight. In any event the badger never wins.

If badger digging is suspected le - several men with spades and dogs at a known sett, the procedure is a follows:-

  1. Do not approach as these men are often violent.
  2. Note how many men, and implements carried, and the vehicle registration if possible.
  3. Ring Police on 999, and arrange to meet them, and guide them to the sett.

Badger fossils have been found in France going back four million years and by the middle Pleistocene era Europe was inhabited by badgers similar to our modern species. The earliest record for Britain is a fossil from Cambridgeshire estimated at 250,000 years old. It would be tragic if this old inhabitant of our country was to decline or even die out in some areas due to our neglect and complacency.