By far the most exciting way to watch badgers is to search for an active sett – look for piles of fresh spoil outside, well-worn paths and a latrine pit full of droppings. The telltale signs of these enchanting mammals are far less attractive than the badgers themselves!
Alternatively, ask people living near woodland if they know of a sett you can visit (obtain permission if it’s not on a public right of way), or see if your local badger group arranges guided walks. For the luxury experience, book an evening in a dedicated hide or stay in accommodation with illuminated badger-watching facilities.
Woodland badger at sunset. © Damian Kuzdak/Getty
7 BADGER WATCHING TIPS
Wear the right clothing for badger watching
Pack a waterproof and extra layers, a hat and gloves in a rucksack – it quickly gets chilly after dark. In summer, take insect repellent. For badger watching, the best binoculars are lower-magnification models (such as 7 or 8x) with wide objective lenses (42–55mm), because these tend to produce a brighter image in low light.
Get to the badger sett nice and early
Stealthily approach your chosen sett an hour or so before dusk. Don’t flash lights unnecessarily in case people living nearby report suspicious behaviour to the police.
Position yourself well
Pick a comfortable spot, with the sett at least 10m in front of you and your back to a tree or hedge, to avoid the badgers seeing you outlined against the sky. Ensure that the wind is on your face so that you’re downwind of the sett.
A badger taking a look around its forest home. © Damian Kuzdak/Getty
Stay still and smell natural
Badgers have phenomenal hearing and powerful noses, so avoid perfume or aftershave, and don’t rustle clothing, snap twigs, cough, sneeze, whisper or smoke.
Use torches carefully
Take a torch with a dimmer function, and set the brightness as low as possible; some people also advise a red light. When badgers appear, shine the beam upwards at first, then lower it gradually, but only as far as necessary.
Badger coming down to a pond to drink at night. © Fabrizio Moglia
Don’t disturb the badgers
Take pictures at the end of your session in case the sound of your camera frightens the badgers away, and don’t leave the sett area until they have finally dispersed to forage.
Badger watching requires patience
Sometimes badgers simply hide, but don’t give up! Aim to visit the sett several nights in a row – that way, you should get lucky on at least one evening. For more expert advice, download the PDF Tips for Badger Watchers from www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/56_S4.pdf
European Badger on an evening stroll. © Kristian Bell/Getty
WHERE TO LOOK FOR BADGERS
Badgers are widely distributed in Britain and Ireland, being absent only from parts of the Scottish Highlands and from offshore islands, including the Isle of Man. Estimates of the UK’s badger population vary widely; the last official survey, 16 years ago, arrived at a figure of 350,000 individuals – the largest national total in Europe.
Most rural woodlands will have a badger sett hidden away somewhere, and there are even some small urban badger populations if you know where to look. But if you want the best possible chance of seeing badgers, here are some of the best sites in the UK.
An urban badger in London. © Damian Kuzdak/Getty
Badger-watching hides and accommodation
Remember to check activity before planning a visit. A comprehensive list is at www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/285_S4.pdf
Badenoch and Strathspey
Strathspey Badger Hide, Boat of Garten 01479 831768; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dumfries and Galloway
WWT Caerlaverock (self-catering) www.wwt.org.uk/visit/caerlaverock
Dalby Forest, near Scarborough 01723 882295; email@example.com
Badger cub coming out of oak woodland. © James Warwick/Getty
Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group www.wcbg.org.uk
Cwm Connell Farm, Moylegrove 01239 881691; www.cwmconnell.co.uk
Gloucestershire Badger Group 01453 750164
Church Cottages, Bude 07852 486197; www.wild-trevigue.co.uk
We’ve got a great Discover Wildlife feature about badger behaviour that will help you get the most out of your badger-watching trip!
Understand badger behaviour
Photo © James Warwick/Getty