Badgers & Hedgehogs
A Wildlife Tip Sheet from Jacobi Jayne & Company
by David Tomlinson
BadgersConsidering their abundance in the British countryside, surprisingly few people have ever seen a wild badger. The closest most people ever come to one is the forlorn sight of a dead badger at the side of the road. The relatively bumbling badger is extremely vulnerable to fast-moving traffic; road vehicles are the major cause of death for Britain's badgers.
A Widespread SpeciesBadgers occur throughout the British Isles, though they are absent from most offshore islands except Anglesey and the Isle of Wight. Though they can be found in every county, they are rarest in the flat lands of East Anglia, and most common in southern, south-western and western counties.
Creatures of the NightWhere badgers are common, they frequently come into gardens, even in the outer suburbs of several major towns including London. However, they are mainly nocturnal and, except in remote areas, it is unusual to see a badger about in daylight. This is why they may be common but rarely seen, except by those who know where to look. If you should hear of or find a local badger sett, make sure that you get the owner of the land's permission before you go badger watching for the first time.
Badger-Watching SecretsThe secrets of badger-watching are to arrive at the sett well before the badgers are due to emerge, to wear inconspicuous clothes, and to sit still, making no noise. Don't sit closer than 10 metres from the sett entrance and try to position yourself downwind - the first thing an emerging badger does is to test the wind with its sensitive nostrils (badgers rely more heavily on their sense of smell than they do on their eyesight).
Badger GroupsIf you don't know of any local setts, but are keen to see your first badger, then the best way is to contact your local badger group. There are badger groups throughout the country, and most are affiliated to their local county Wildlife Trust. For details of your local trust, contact The Wildlife Trusts, The Kiln, Waterside, Mather Road, Newark, Notts NG24 1WT, tel 01636-677711.
Badgers in Your GardenMany people are unaware of the nocturnal visits of badgers to their garden, but wonder what mysterious creature has dug the holes in their lawn. Badgers are great eaters of earthworms, and will dig for them enthusiastically, particularly in dry weather. They respond quickly to free hand-outs of food, which are particularly valuable to them during periods of drought. If you feed regularly, then the badgers are likely to come equally frequently.
Regular visits from badgers can give a great deal of pleasure, and it is simple to get to know individual animals by their behaviour. You can flood-light the feeding area so you can watch the badgers, but remember that the animals will only tolerate a single bright light. A whiff of human scent on the air will also make them run off.
What to FeedWild badgers are omnivorous, eating anything they come across that takes their fancy. Earthworms form the bulk of their diet, but they are also happy to eat cereals, voles and mice, and even wasp-nests and hedgehogs. There's no need to buy so-called badger foods for your badgers: they will be just as happy with dried dog food (preferably of the muesli type), or with a scattering of peanuts. They are reputed to find peanut butter sandwiches irresistible. If you do feed dried dog food, then do make sure that there is a plentiful supply of clean water available.
HedgehogsHedgehogs are one of our most successful mammals and can be found throughout mainland Britain, and on many offshore islands where man has introduced them. Because they often occur in gardens, they are one of our most familiar wild animals. If hedgehogs are rare or absent in your area, it may well be because an abundance of badgers keeps their numbers down. Hedgehogs rely on rolling into a prickly ball for their defence, but badgers are adept at uncurling the hog with their powerful front feet, exposing the soft unprotected flesh on the underside.
Feeding the Hedge PigIf you are lucky enough to have the occasional nocturnal visit from a hedgehog, then there are a number of ways to encourage it to come more regularly. Much the best is to feed with a small amount of Jacobi Jayne's Hedgehog Mix. This is a carefully formulated mixture of fruits, nuts and cereals that mimics their natural diet. As it is a dry food, it is best fed from a shallow dish in a quiet part of the garden with fresh water available near by. Don't give hedgehogs the traditional offering of bread and milk - they may eat it, but it's not good for them, as it is liable to give them diarrhoea.
Wild DietWild hedgehogs live almost entirely on ground-level invertebrates, including earthworms, beetles, spiders and centipedes. Yes, they do eat slugs, but prefer the small ones and ignore those monsters you wish they would consume. They will also take the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds. Old wives' tales tell of hedgehogs sucking milk from cows but there appears to be no truth in this.
HibernationIn the autumn, hedgehogs look for a safe hibernation site. This can be difficult to find in a neat and tidy garden, but they can be attracted to artificial hibernation sites. An ideal home is provided by the Jacobi Jayne Hedgehog Dome which not only looks good but also is tough and well insulated. Made by nest-box specialists Schwegler, the insulated dome is made of woodcrete so won't rot and will last indefinitely.
Mature males usually hibernate in October, followed a little later by females, while young animals may remain active until December. In southern England they usually emerge from hibernation in early April.
Further ReadingStrongly recommended are Badgers by Michael Clark (£7.50 from Jacobi Jayne) and Hedgehogs by Pat Morris (£7.50 from Jacobi Jayne). Both are published by Whittet Books and contain an abundance of information clearly and often amusingly presented. The Collins Field Guide Mammals of Britain & Europe by David Macdonald and Priscilla Barrett (£19.50 from Jacobi Jayne) is a fine reference book, as is its companion volume, European Mammals, also by David Macdonald.