Surveying is the lifeblood of a badger group. Only if we know where Berkshire's badgers live can we protect them.
What does sett surveying involve?
Finding a badger’s sett is easier than seeing a badger itself. Although badgers are shy creatures and only emerge from their setts at night, they do leave clues for us to find during the daytime. Our task is to find those clues and use them not only to find the setts, but also to assess the level of recent activity.
So detective work comes into play, good observation skills, a love of long walks in the countryside and a certain tolerance for mud, brambles and nettles!
Where do we survey?
Our surveys can be anywhere in Berkshire!
The majority take place in rural locations but we do cover urban areas too. We know of very active setts even in central Reading so our towns cannot be ignored.
The exact location of any survey is determined by the priority of the moment, be that a potential development, preparing to support badgers in the cull, reports of sett interference etc.
Our boots have covered hundreds of miles of footpaths across East, West and central Berkshire, enjoying some beautiful scenery along the way.
What are we looking for?
Well, clearly we are looking for badger setts but it is more than that. We need to assess if the setts we find are currently active or have fallen into disuse. For example, setts near roads may be inactive where all the inhabitants have been hit by cars.
Good signs of badger activity include:
well worn runs across fields or through undergrowth;
hairs caught on barbed wire;
latrines (the fresher the better!);
spoil heaps and bedding near sett entrances.
These additional signs are also important because:
the legal definition of a sett requires there to be at least two signs of recent badger activity. A hole in the ground is not sufficient, but one or more entrances and, say, fresh digging, would legally constitute a badger sett. Only then does the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 come into play;
sometimes the setts themselves are not accessible so it is only by these field signs that we know badgers are present.
Badger lovers inevitably get excited to find a new sett for our records or even a known sett showing good signs of use.
With this comes the necessity for the dull but important work of recording the details and photographing entrances and other field signs, foraging routes etc. This information is later added to our central database, allowing us to maintain a map of Berkshire showing the location of badgers’ setts.
Also important is our own biosecurity, disinfecting our boots at the end of the survey. We don't want to risk picking up bTB from infected areas and spreading it to wildlife elsewhere.
Why do we sett survey?
Having knowledge of badger sett locations can be useful to us in many ways, including:
evaluating the impact of planning applications on badgers;
providing sett locations on request to ecology companies;
providing supplementary feeding or water in times of extreme weather;
returning a badger to its home sett following treatment for injury or illness;
seeking orphaned cubs of badgers killed on the roads;
planning Wounded Badger Patrol locations.
Surveying is also crucial to help us fight wildlife crime:
the details and photos stored of a healthy sett can prove to be vital evidence if that same sett is later subjected to illegal interference;
surveying new areas often alerts us to vulnerable setts where disturbance is evident.