Firstly - what are badgers?
The badger, or European badger Meles meles, is the largest member of the mustelid family in the UK. This group of animals includes other protected species including otter and pine marten. The badger is a mainly nocturnal species and has a striking black and white face with greyish fur although some can appear ginger-red, brown and even white.
Males and females are difficult to separate although boars (males) tend to have a thicker head than the sows (females). Badgers are approximately 1m long and generally weigh between 8 and 14kg, although weights of up to 22kg have been recorded. They are described as ‘opportunistic omnivores’ which means they can eat pretty much anything they encounter across although approximately 80% of their diet is earthworms. Other prey items include field voles, mice, rats, shrews, young rabbits, insects, frogs, toads, slugs some birds and bird’s eggs. Badgers can mate in any month of the year but, due to badgers’ reproductive cycle having delayed implantation, cubs are born between late January and early March emerging from the sett in late April.
Badgers are social animals living in a family group, or ‘clan’, in a complex of burrows and chambers called a sett. Some badger setts date back hundreds of years. The main sett is the family HQ and is quite large with numerous holes, or entrances, which are connected on the surface by well-worn pathways. Slightly further away could be an ‘annexe’ sett which can have a number of entrances and connected to the main sett by pathways. Even further away could be ‘subsidiary’ and ‘outlier’ setts which are smaller and not connected to the main sett but are used occasionally by members of the clan.
Setts are created within a clan territory. The boundary of the territory is usually ‘latrines’ which the badgers regularly use. Delineating territory in this way can help prevent conflict with neighbouring badger clans.
Where are they found?
Badgers prefer dry sites with soils that are easy to dig. Setts are often located in woodland or in hedgerows, but they can also be found in scrub on steep banks close to fields where they forage. Badgers have also been known to create setts in railway embankments and even in the middle of arable fields.
So what does it mean for the construction site?
The Badger (Meles meles) and its habitat are protected under The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and is also included on Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and Appendix III of the Bern Convention. The legislation affords badgers protection against deliberate harm or injury making it an offence to:
1. wilfully kill, injure, take, possess or cruelly ill-treat a badger (or attempt to do so)
2. to interfere with a sett by damaging or destroying it
3. to obstruct access to, or entrance of, a badger sett
4. to disturb a badger whilst it is occupying a sett
Penalties for offences include fines of up to £5000, plus up to six months imprisonment, for each illegal sett interference, badger injury or death.
The strong legal protection afforded to badgers means that it is important to establish whether they are present on a site prior to any works taking place. Badger surveys often take place at the pre-planning stage of the development process, to help assess the environmental impact of proposals and will evaluate the site and the surrounding area for the presence of /suitability for badgers.
Badger can be undertaken at any time of year although surveys are more effective in spring and autumn/winter when the vegetation has died back and field signs are more visible.
Badgers are a very mobile species, meaning they can readily colonise new areas, and for that reason pre-construction surveys are often carried to assess if badgers have colonised in the meantime. It is especially important that badgers are not overlooked in cases where planning permission has been achieved, but construction has not commenced for 6 months or more, as this is plenty of time for badgers to move in! If evidence of badgers is found on site after works have started, all work in the area must cease immediately and an ecologist appointed to determine if mitigation is needed.
Where badgers are found to be present on site close liaison is required between project engineers, the contractor and the appointed ecologist in order to devise appropriate working methods and mitigation to avoid a breach of the legislation. All personnel on site should be informed of the presence of badgers and their responsibilities through toolbox talks and/or the site induction.
It is best to avoid impacts on badgers by targeting development and associated activity away from their setts and maintaining their commuting routes and foraging areas. Where badgers are present, but sett disturbance can be avoided, a 30 metre protection zone should be established around the sett entrances. This protection zone should be maintained for the duration of work with clear instructions being given to all members of the workforce as to the purpose of the zone. If impacts on badgers are unavoidable, then works must be carried out under a license obtained from the relevant statutory body (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage or Natural Resources Wales). Licenses take time to apply for and may take in excess of one month to be processed, so should be applied for well in advance of the works needing to take place.
Disturbance, exclusion and sett destruction under license should only be considered as a last resort and can only be undertaken between July and November inclusive. Disturbing badgers in setts and damaging setts should be avoided entirely between the beginning of December and the end of June (the breeding season) when the cubs are born, and sows are nursing. No works or vehicles should come within 30m of the sett during this period even if a licence has been granted. Where the construction of a new setts is required, this must be in place 6 months before the existing sett is destroyed. Sett exclusion prior to closure can take several weeks to complete. Once a sett has been destroyed construction should start immediately as badgers may attempt to re-excavate old sett sites.
For larger developments it may be necessary to provide additional setts and enhanced foraging areas (for example, by planting native nut and fruit trees as a part of landscaping schemes) and access routes both before and during development. For smaller developments care must be taken not to obstruct access routes or to destroy seasonally important food and water sources. Excavators and other machinery used on site should be controlled by an experienced operator, ideally with an experienced badger specialist supervising the work. If any trenches are left open overnight they should have a means of escape for any animals that might fall in.
What can Nevis do?
Nevis has experienced surveyors who can plan and conduct badger surveys for your site. Once completed we can provide advice, mitigation where appropriate and organise and implement the mitigation and provide an ECoW to supervise works where necessary.
We are experienced in applying for development licenses in respect of badgers and in developing mitigation solutions (e.g. artificial badger setts). We also have close links with specialist environmental contractors who are experienced in implementing mitigation measures.
If you want to ensure your construction site is covered, get the experts on board - contact the Nevis Team today:
Info@nevisenvironmental.com , 01463 830231