Quick facts

Common name: European badger
Scientific name: Meles meles
Main signs: Scraped out bits of lawn or snuffle holes, latrines, partially eaten bulbs, vegetables and fruit, digging under fences or broken fence
Plants affected: Lawn, flower beds, fruits, vegetables
Most active: Badgers are nocturnal. Whilst they do not hibernate, they are less active over the winter months.

What are badgers?

The European badger, found across most of the UK, is our largest remaining land predator. Whilst badgers are often associated with woodland and wider countryside, the species has adapted to live in suburban environments including railway embankments and parks, and often visit gardens. Although predatory they have an omnivorous diet, 80% of which is usually made up of earthworms. However, they are not fussy and to the annoyance of some gardeners, they have been known to eat bulbs, vegetables, fruit and crops such as sweetcorn in addition to small animals such as rabbits, mice, rats, frogs and hedgehogs. They also dig turf for beetle larvae, known as chafer grubs, from autumn to spring.

Signs of badger presence in your garden

There are a number of signs that a badger has been using your garden:
  • Latrines – badgers leave droppings in open pits, used to mark the edges of their territory.
  • Snuffle holes – particularly noticeable on lawns due to ripped up turf, these are small pits made by their snouts when sniffing out for food such as earthworms (see further information on chafer grubs below).
  • Hairs – badger hairs often get caught on fences, maybe where they have squeezed through a gap. These are usually coarse to feel, black and white, and can be up to 12cm long.
  • Scratch marks – where trees, rocks or other objects near a sett have been used as a scratching post.
  • Runs and push throughs – where it is clear an animal has walked and pushed through dense scrub or vegetation to get past. Here you may see snagged hair and flattened grass.
  • Tracks – evident in soft mud or snow. Five digits with claw marks evident. Reminiscent of a small hand. Width 4.5-6.5cm. 
  • Setts – you may even have seen a sett entrance in or near your garden. The holes of a sett entrance are often described as a sideways D shape. Look for footprints or tracks visible around the entrance hole and, if frequently used, the soil will look smooth or polished. Freshly excavated soil heaps may be found around the entrance and runs (animal pathways) may be visible away from the hole.

Badgers and chafer grubs

During autumn to spring, badgers dig in search for beetle larvae known as chafer grubs, often under lawns. If you dig around beneath the damaged turf you may be able to find some of these larvae. They are fairly robust, creamy white grubs with three pairs of legs, brown heads and they have a curved body shape. If they are present in sufficient numbers, they can by autumn have severed most of the roots and this makes it easy for other animals, such as badgers, foxes and corvids (members of the crow family) to rip out the turf as they search for the grubs.

Once these badgers have located a suitable feeding area, they are likely to keep on returning as long as there are grubs there to be eaten. In some cases the best option is to make repairs to lawn in the spring when chafer grubs complete their feeding and badger damage reduces.

How to tell the difference between a badger sett and a rabbit burrow

  • Badger setts are generally the shape of the letter ‘D’ on its side whereas a rabbit hole is more circular like an ‘O’.
  • Badger setts are larger. If the entrance to a rabbit hole is large, it will narrow quickly.
  • Badgers generally leave their latrines a bit further away from a sett than rabbits – rabbits will likely leave their droppings (small brown pellets) at the entrance of the hole.
  • Look for any of the signs of evidence listed above nearby the sett.
  • If you are still unsure, you could attach a trail camera to a nearby tree or feature

Living with badgers

Badgers are an iconic species and hold a special place in both British nature and culture. Many consider themselves lucky to have badgers visiting their gardens, catching their comings and goings on wildlife cameras or even watching them live on a back patio after dark. However, we understand that their activity can also pose a challenge to gardeners so we have provided the following advice;

  • It may be possible to exclude badgers from your garden. First check that there is no sign of a badger sett within your garden and/or that the area you wish to keep them out of does not provide an important commuting route for them (e.g. is it the only connection between greenspace further afield). If you can confirm the above, you could construct a metal mesh fence buried to at least 50cm deep.
  • If badgers are looking in search of chafer grub, it is difficult to stop as they tend to be stubborn animals that follow the same routes every night, going round, over, under or through any obstacles placed in their way. There is only one treatment available to gardeners for treating chafer grubs; a nematode biocontrol that can be watered into the turf in order to kill the grubs. Late summer to early autumn is the best time to use the nematode to prevent damage since it works best on the younger larvae and needs relatively warm soil conditions for the nematodes to be active.
  • The damage caused by the animals digging up the turf can be repaired in the autumn or spring, by sowing grass seed or laying new turf. However, animals are more likely to damage the turf when food is scarce over autumn and winter so repairs may be best carried out in spring. By then badgers and foxes have generally lost interest in chafer grubs and so there is a period of respite when the lawn can be restored.
  • Prevent the temptation – if it is fruit or vegetables which are being affected, install a fence around these
  • Some recommend the use of electric fencing, however these can be lethal to smaller animals, or be an issue with neighbours or passers-by accidently touching them. As such, these are not something we would advise without consulting your local badger group.

A note on feeding badgers

It should also be noted that if the opposite of the above is true and you would like to attract badgers to your garden, putting out food for them is not something to make a habit of. Whilst it can feel like you are helping, it is not good to encourage wildlife to become reliant on unnatural resources and whilst you may want badgers frequenting your garden, your neighbours might not feel quite the same way. In severe weather, when you are unsure of the availability of natural resources, you can consider leaving out a small handful of peanuts. When there is a drought, leave out water and covered cat biscuits instead. For further information, see the Badger Trust Website.

If the issue is only as a result of digging under a fence and making a mess, you can install a two-way badger gate which ensures the fence still looks neat but allows the badgers to pass both in and out – we have had success with this at RHS Wisley.


Badgers are widespread in Britain, although most common in the south west of England.

With strong paws, long claws and a short, stout body, they are notorious for their digging skills and create setts, made up of a network of tunnels and chambers underground, to live in. Setts vary according to their size, and there can be multiple setts in a territory. Usually a territory consists of one main sett (which is permanently in use and is used for breeding) in addition to annex setts (smaller than the main sett but may still be several holes, usually close to the main sett and connected with well-worn paths), subsidiary setts (similar size to annex but further from the main sett without well warn paths) and outlier setts (usually with just one or two entrances and intermittently occupied). A main sett can have more than 50 entrances and can extend 100 metres!

Badgers have one brood of young a year, with a female giving birth to up to five young inside the sett. They make their first steps outside at around 12 weeks old and when fully grown, can reach up to around 90cm in length and 12kg in weight.

If you are luckily enough to have seen a badger, you most likely saw it alone – this is because whilst a group (or a clan as they are called) of badgers usually live together in a sett, they largely forage by themselves. The clan is usually made up of around four to eight individuals of both sexes although can get up to around 20. Latrines are marked with scent which makes sure the clan’s territorial boundary is marked out. They often occur as a series of shallow pits filled with excrement.

Biosecurity and bovine tuberculosis (TB)

Badgers are carriers of bovine tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease carried by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. The disease is largely known for its impact on cattle farmers and their businesses. Bovine TB is transmitted between cattle, between badgers, and between the two species. As such, advice should be followed on keeping cattle isolated from badgers, as far as possible. This includes keeping cattle away from areas it is known that badgers are active.

Legal protection

European badgers and their setts are protected in the UK under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, largely due to the volume of cruelty and interference the species and their setts were suffering from. As a result of the Act, it is an offence to:
  • Take, injure or kill a badger (or attempt to)
  • Treat a badger cruelly
  • Interfere with a badger sett
  • Sell, possess or control a live badger
  • Mark or ring a badger

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