The elusive Eurasian Badger (Meles meles) is seen as a rare and lucky treat for those who catch a glimpse. This nocturnal and underground dweller is actually quite common in the British Isles, however rarely ventures out during the day, living in an extensive network of underground tunnels and nests, known as a sett. When emerging in the cover of nightfall they go in search of food, usually venturing into a nearby field or woodland. Badgers are omnivores and a tasty earthworm or juicy bulb will satisfy their hunger along with small mammals, lizards, frogs, insects or young rabbits and birds. Depending on the time of year badgers also feed upon berries, fruits, nuts, roots and cereals if other food sources are short. They are also known to take carrion.
In areas of the UK and Europe where food supplies are plentiful, badgers are social creatures, living within groups of between 4 and 12. There is usually one dominant male (a boar) and female (a sow). The female is likely to be the only breeder of the community, giving birth to two or three cubs a year, around the month of February. The females can display delayed implantation, which means they can hold fertilised eggs in suspended development until the right time for breeding occurs. The gestation period is 7-8 weeks.
The regions badgers live in can be classed as their territory, bordered by latrines and dung pits. As with many wild animals if other groups cross these borders then fierce fights can occur. In other parts of Europe, where food is not so readily available, the badger tends to adopt a more solitary existence, and needs not to mark out a territory.
To recognise the distinct features of the badger is quite easy, if you are lucky enough to catch the flash of black and white before they disappear in a nearby hedgerow. They are heavy set and stocky in body, with short but powerful legs and their paws are adapted with long, sharp claws that are very useful for digging. It is generally believed that they have poor eyesight, but their hearing and sense of smell are excellent.
Another major feature of the badger is its scent glands. Skunks, as we all know excrete a terrible smell when threatened or disturbed. This is also the natural working of the badger. They have the ability to produce a very unpleasant smell through their anal glands when being threatened or giving a warning. These excretions are also used in communication, to mark out territories and to guide badgers around their boundaries by spraying pathways and landmarks. The Eurasian Badger also possesses a gland under the base of its tail, which gives of a slightly better musky scent that can be used in communication and scent marking each other.
Badgers in Britain have in past times been threatened by badger-baiting, a sport in which the badger was attacked by a succession of dogs until it was no longer able to fight and resulted in death. This activity was common throughout middle age Great Britain until an Act of Parliament banned it in 1835. Badger digging was also made illegal in 1973 under the Badger Act. The only thing to threaten the badger population nowadays is any disease within the species, loss of habitat through agriculture and development or road traffic accidents. However, they are well protected by law, the most recent being The Protection of Badgers Act in 1992, and there are many local groups around the country that actively promote and protect this popular charming creature.