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September 2011

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Badgers at home!

Dick Warner says that badgers are not uncommon in gardens

There is a walled kitchen garden belonging to the Office of Public Works in the Visitor Centre in Dublin's Phoenix Park. Earlier this year it started suffering from badger damage. The gardeners did the obvious thing - they reinforced all the gates and other points in the wall where a badger might get in. But, mysteriously, the damage continued. Then one day one of the gardeners was mowing grass in a quiet corner of the garden when he flushed a cross badger that had been sleeping in a sort of nest it had made itself. Instead of barricading the badger out, they had barricaded it in! 

Badgers are quite fast animals and they have formidable jaws and teeth. Removing one from a walled garden is not easy. It took several people nearly an hour to chase it out of a gate. The animal then shot off across the park and into some woodland - to the amazement of the considerable crowd that had gathered to watch the spectacle.

Badgers are not uncommon visitors to gardens, urban and suburban gardens as well as rural ones. They're nocturnal, so they're not often seen, but they leave evidence behind them. The commonest sign is shallow scrapes in the lawn. Rabbits can do the same thing but almost always leave droppings behind as well. Badgers use latrines and don't leave droppings.

The badgers are doing this to get insect larvae that live in the lawn's soil, particularly leather jackets. They don't normally dig for earthworms, they suck them off the surface of the lawn on dewy nights. They are extremely omnivorous animals and will also eat fruit, vegetables, pet food and they have a passion for the peanuts used to feed wild birds.

Many people will be delighted to have a badger visiting their garden and will put up with minor damage and petty theft. But sometimes things can get out of hand. So what do you do if a badger is causing damage to your garden? It's not an easy question to answer. They are legally protected and repellents don't seem to work very well on them. Anyway, I have reservations about using them. Apart from anything else, something that's going to cause distress to a badger is likely to be just as distressing to domestic dogs and cats.

Badgers live in clans and these clans are highly territorial. Their territories are large, usually between 50 and 150 hectares, though they can be smaller if the feeding is very rich. This means that it's almost certain that a badger is moving in and out of your garden after dark and not living there exclusively. So you can ensure that the badger has moved off the premises and then construct a badger-proof perimeter. Unfortunately this isn't easy either. They are very strong animals - chicken wire will not contain them, you need something stronger. They are also good climbers, good diggers and, because they normally live underground, they are well used to squeezing through remarkably small gaps and spaces.

If the damage is being done to your lawn, this is because you have a high density of insect larvae beneath the lawn. Not much can be done about that except, of course, you shouldn't leave wild bird food lying around on it after dark. But if, on the other hand, you like having badgers and want to encourage them there are suppliers of wild bird foods that actually makes up a special badger feeding mixture. The fact that it's worth their while to do this is an indication of how common garden badgers are becoming. You can learn more about badgers, including the contentious subject of culling them to reduce bovine tuberculosis, on the website of Badgerwatch Ireland.

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