Five Go Wild in Warwickshire

Five little badger cubs whose individual paths were unlikely to have ever crossed are, as I write, living happily together as a family in an old disused sett which I managed to find for them. The cubs originally came from Newent, Malvern, Hinton on the Green, Wellesbourne, and Tongwynlais (near Cardiff). All had arrived at the Vale Wildlife Hospital in Beckford at various times during spring. Most had been found wandering alone, in daylight in dehydrated condition by members of the public. One was believed to have been in a road accident.

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The cubs had been treated and cared for at the Vale and then after several weeks, when well enough, they were put together to prepare for release back into the wild. The Vale contacted me in mid July to see if I knew of any suitable safe sites for release. Fortunately I had a couple of disused setts in mind which I had surveyed last year. I asked the Vale to arrange for TB tests and the results came back showing all five cubs are clear.

While this was happening I had to check that the most suitable sett I had in mind for release was still not in use. So, with the landowners permission, I arranged a visit. My inspection suggested the sett was inactive and "nightcams", left in situ for a week, confirmed this. The nearest other badger clan territory is almost a mile away, which is not totally ideal. But when considering everything it was decided the best option would still be to release "the Vale five" at the site.

The plan was for me to collect the cubs from the hospital on 27th July in the afternoon and get them to the release site ready to let go just before dusk. I took a couple of standard badger traps with me. These are larger than conventional carry cages and I felt they would give the cubs a bit more space while in transit.

Fit and healthy badger cubs, in an open pen, are not the easiest of animals to catch and put in cages. So, with help from Jeff Wood of the Vale, we started by getting all five into their sleeping quarters, (a large shed). This has a two foot square opening allowing the cubs access to the outside pen area. Jeff went into the shed and I stayed outside holding an opened cage, covered by a sheet, up to the opening. Jeff managed to coax/chase the cubs into the cage one by one and I slammed the door shut after each until the next one was ready. We put three in one cage and two in another and I then set off with them to the release site.

I had planned to supplementary feed the cubs for a couple of weeks or so after letting them go, and then gradually reduce this support until they become totally self sufficient. Jeff kindly gave me a very large supply of the dog food, biscuits, and frozen chicks that the cubs had been used to eating at the Vale and, loaded up with this and the cubs, I reached the sett about an hour before dusk.

I put the cages near to a couple of entrance holes and they were left there for about half an hour for the cubs to get used to the smell of the surroundings. I then unloaded a couple of sackfuls of straw bedding which the cubs had used at the Vale. I pushed some of this down about half a dozen of the holes so there was some familiar scent down in the sett. I also raked out and agitated the soil at a couple of holes which were full of twig debris. (Badgers tend to carry on digging where fresh soil disturbance has occurred and I was hoping this may encourage them to further properly open up and use these holes).

Eventually the cage with two cubs in was opened and both of them bolted straight down the hole without hesitation. When I opened the cage with the other three in, at the next hole, they were much more relaxed about gaining their freedom. The first went gently down into the entrance, shifting bits of bedding around as he/she went. The next went slowly too, doing the same. The final one had to be coaxed gently out of the cage but soon joined the other two.

With all five successfully released, a supply of food and water left in various places, (and two nightcams set at different points), I left the sett and went home. I returned the following evening to find all of the food gone, and signs of fresh digging around the sett. Some bedding had also been dragged into different holes. I put more food out, swapped the memory cards in the nightcams and reset them, and then left. When I got home I checked the camera footage from the previous night. This showed a great deal of activity by all five cubs as they took up ownership of their new home.

As at 7th November the cubs are still all in situ and are totally self sufficient although I am still providing a little supplementary food twice weekly to help them on a bit more. I will be making continuing checks on their progress regularly over the winter. Overall it is very encouraging that the two males and three females have made such a superb start to their return to the wild.

Indeed the success of the operation so far has well exceeded my very best expectations and long may this "fives" adventures continue.

Steve Hawkes

Warwickshire Badger Group

November 2017

I have repeated my visits every night since 27th July and by 22nd August the visits had reduced to twice a week. All of the cubs have settled in exceptionally well and at least eight holes are now regularly being used including four which they have dug themselves. I have been burying some of the food in several different places around the sett area to encourage them to forage and they have found every bit.

Nightly footage from the cameras has shown the cubs doing all of the sorts of things you would usually associate with badgers in the wild. Play fighting, mutual grooming, moving bedding, and of course much "rootling" and digging have all been apparent. The play fighting and chasing around is a joy to watch and, for those who can access You Tube, I have put some clips together to show this. The link being :- https://youtu.be/xfu8t7MMYV0

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