Badgers are fascinating creatures. They can provide a gardener with endless interest and amusement when they take up residence nearby. What is more, they can be invaluable to organic gardeners in helping to keep down numbers of certain pest species. Learning how to deal with badgers in the garden is not a case of getting rid of them, but rather of learning how to live with them day to day.
Like other creatures, like urban foxes, badgers are becoming more and more used to close proximity to humans, and are often quite happy to live side by side with us. But while badgers can often be quite happy with the arrangement – some gardeners are not quite as content – especially when large holes start appearing in their garden, or when fruits and vegetables begin to disappear.
It is important to understand that badgers are an important and protected species. Whatever you do, it is vital to make sure that you do no harm to these creatures. They do not mean any harm to you, and you should learn to appreciate them, rather than seeing them as a problem.
Why Badgers Come Into Gardens
There are a number of different reasons why badgers come into gardens in the first place. Understanding the badger behaviour is key to working out how to live alongside them as a gardener.
To Find Food
First of all, badgers may come into a garden in order to find food. It is important to understand that badgers are territorial creatures. They are social creatures, and creatures of habit, and each group or family will have a territory. That territory may include your garden, along with surrounding gardens, fields, woodland or other wild areas. The size of badger territories can vary quite widely. But the key thing about a territory is that it will provide for all the food needs and other requirements of the badgers which live there.
If badgers come into your garden when they have not done so before, it may be because new building or other disruptions have led them to lose previous feeding grounds. Your garden may also be right on the edge of their territory, and contains food sources that draw them to expand their territory into the area.
To Dig a Latrine
Badgers, being creatures of habit, tend to deposit their dung in the same place time and time again. If your garden is part of their territory, it is possible that they have designated an area within it as a latrine. They will tend to make a small excavation around 15cm deep and around the same width, and use that place as their ‘toilet’. They may also enter your garden in order to scent mark around the borders of their territory.
If you have an overgrown area with dense vegetation in your garden, badgers may come there to collect bedding material and make a nest on the ground. These shelters are used periodically when badgers are moving around their territory.
Occasionally, an ill or injured badger may seek refuge in your garden, finding shelter in an outbuilding, or under a shed. If you do see a sick or hurt badger, call the Badger Trust for advice.
To Make a New Sett
Finally, it is also possible that badgers will decide to excavate a new sett in your garden. These large tunnels are difficult to miss. Badgers are large creatures, after all, and there will be a large amount of spoil removed in order to create the tunnels of the sett, which will be at least 25cm in diameter.
If badgers do make a sett in your garden, it is a good idea to consult the Badger Trust, who are experts in badger conservation, but who can give advice and help in relocating badgers where they create setts and it truly is a problem.
Can You Keep Badgers Out of the Garden?
Badgers are strong, large creatures and it is important to understand that they are difficult to keep out of your space with a physical barrier. They can climb well. Squeeze through surprisingly small gaps, and can fairly easily dig under or break through a weak or poorly constructed fence.
It is, however, possible to create fences that are strong enough to keep badgers out. A strong wooden framework and heavy wire must be used (chicken wire is not strong enough) and the wire must extend below the ground to a depth of at least 60cm (depending on soil structure). The underground extension must also come away from the fence horizontally for at least 30cm. If you do decide to create such a barrier, it needs to be at least 120cm high, and an overhang facing away from the garden of at least 30cm is recommended.
Another option is to create a solid wall of at least 120cm, with suitable foundations. You could also consider electric fencing (as long as safety is considered).
Generally speaking, however, physical barriers are not a cost effective or good long-term solution. It is also worth considering the fact that fences or walls that keep out the badgers could also keep other beneficial creatures from your garden, and could detrimentally effect endangered creatures – like hedgehogs, for example.
Whatever you do, no NOT put down any chemical poisons or dangerous materials in your garden. Instead, try to work through the problems using organic gardening principles and practices.
How Badgers Can Be a Problem For Gardeners
If you have badgers in your garden, the key question to ask yourself is whether or not they really are a problem. For the most part, badgers are nocturnal and keep themselves to themselves. But there are certain circumstances when they can annoy gardeners, or disrupt their gardening endeavours.
It is when finding food that badgers usually cause the most impact in a garden. Badgers are omnivorous. They eat:
- Earthworms and insect larvae.
- Flower bulbs, fruit and vegetables.
- Food like peanuts left out for birds or other creatures.
- Food scraps from compost heaps or bins.
- Rabbits, rodents and other wildlife on occasion.
Badgers are most often considered a nuisance when they dig up and scrape out small pits in lawns in order to dig out insect larvae like cockchafer, cutworm and leatherjackets. (Earthworms they will generally suck up off the surface.) This can spoil the appearance of a lawn.
In dry or frosty weather, when less earthworms and insect larvae are available, badgers may well eat fruit and vegetables from your growing areas – which can be very frustrating if they gobble up all of your food before you get the chance to. They may also make a mess by digging in your composting areas, or knocking over dustbins.
Badgers may also cause mess by digging latrines or making nests in the middle of beds or borders, or even digging a sett in the most inopportune of places.
Those who keep bees in their garden may have a problem with badgers disturbing the bee hives, and even knocking over the hives to get the honey.
How Badgers Can Help Gardeners
While badgers can cause inconvenience, they undoubtedly do more good than harm. Badgers are extremely delightful creatures to have around, and many gardeners love seeing them out and about after dark, or even in the evening if their sett is close by. They can really be a source of entertainment and amusement. They can teach you a lot too.
What is more, badgers are an important part of the natural ecosystem. As an organic gardener, it is important to embrace nature, and work with it, rather than trying to fight it in your garden. Badgers are a predator that can help to keep pest species in your garden in check. They can reduce the numbers of insects that can damage your crops (such as cutworms) and may also eat other pests that plague you in your garden.
Living With Badgers
Living with badgers means taking a somewhat relaxed approach to the occasional mess that they might make, and accommodating them in your garden. The occasional fruits and vegetables that they might eat can be considered as natural ‘taxes’ and most of the other issues are largely cosmetic.
Some steps that you can take to live more harmoniously with badgers include:
- Putting out food for badgers when the ground is dry or frozen (so they don’t eat your crops). However, this could encourage a larger population, or make badgers visit more frequently, so is not a good idea if they are already causing other problems.
- Improving lawn aeration and drainage, so there are fewer insect larvae and you can maintain an attractive short lawn without badger holes. However, bear in mind that manicured lawns are not the best choice for a wildlife friendly garden.
- Bringing bird food and other food left in your garden indoors at night, to discourage badgers from visiting to eat.
- Covering your compost heap and/or securing your compost/ waste areas.
Remember, while we humans tend to take an anthropocentric view – we are not the centre of the universe! Successful organic gardening is all about understanding that other animals have as much right to use a space as we do.
Do you have a problem with badgers? Do you love watching badgers in your garden? Share your experiences in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.