Badgers (Meles meles) are distinctive-looking, nocturnal mammals that are widespread in the UK and live in urban and rural settings. They live in social groups, sometimes up to 20 adults, although often far fewer, and use underground burrows known as setts. The entrances to these differ in size and shape to the excavations used by rabbits and foxes. Badger setts can be used by many generations: some have been assessed as being over a century old. The territory of a social group may be as small as 30 ha in particularly good habitats but up to 150 ha in areas such as the Highlands of Scotland. Territorial boundaries are often marked with distinctive latrines (dung pits), especially in areas with high badger densities. Badgers exploit a wide variety of food items, but earthworms form most of their diet.
Protection and the law
Badgers have legal protection in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. In England, the main legislation is the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Among other things, this act protects badgers from being disturbed when in their setts, killed, persecuted or cruelly ill-treated. Disturbance is an important consideration for anyone wishing to undertake groundwork near an occupied badger sett. The act also makes it an offence to damage or destroy a badger sett, or to obstruct a badger from entering its sett.
Badgers and development
Planning authorities are obliged to consider protected species when reviewing and determining planning applications. Depending on the nature of the development and the location or site being developed, the authorities may request that an ecological assessment be undertaken. As part of this, a suitably qualified ecologist should assess the site for its potential to support those protected species likely to be present. This will often include a search for evidence of badger activity such as setts, latrines, footprints and hairs caught on fencing. This search should extend 30 m beyond the site boundary in order to assess on-site groundwork activity that could potentially disturb badgers in nearby setts.
The nature and the quantity of field signs then enable ecologists to determine if and how badgers use a site and how important it may be to the local population. The ecologist can then identify the potential effects, both negative and positive, on the badgers from the development, for example, loss of a sett or foraging habitat or disturbance of badgers in a sett, and assess their significance.
If a development cannot proceed without adversely affecting an active sett (one showing signs of current use by badgers) or its residents, a licence from the relevant statutory nature conservation organisation, i.e., Natural England in England, will be necessary. This licence will ensure that the welfare of the affected badgers is not compromised and permit activities to take place that would otherwise constitute an offence under the Protection of Badgers Act. For instance, a licence can be granted to allow badgers to be excluded from their setts using one-way gates fitted to the entrances, i.e. by obstructing access. Once the badgers have safely left the sett of their own volition and relocated, either to other setts within their territory or to an artificial sett provided by the developer, the sett can be destroyed and development can proceed safely for both the developer and the badgers.
New class licence
Badger mitigation licences are traditionally site-specific. Generally, the licensing process requires the submission of a detailed method statement outlining all the survey results and recommended mitigation measures, plus an accompanying application form. The relevant statutory nature conservation organisation then reviews the application and, if satisfied, can issue the licence permitting the mitigation or disturbing operation. In the case of Natural England, this determination process can take up to 30 working days.
To streamline the licensing process, and in acknowledgment that there are ecologists in the industry with substantial experience of badger mitigation measures, Natural England has taken a pragmatic approach and devised the new class licence system. This class licence is based on the practice of acknowledging the earned recognition of professionals. Consultants can apply to become registered for the class licence and need to demonstrate extremely high levels of badger-related experience from the offset.
If successful with their application, they can then register individual sites on their class licence. This registration/notification process is a lot simpler than the normal site licensing process, as it requires less information to be submitted; sites can become registered in just five working days. Natural England, in effect, trusts the class licence holder to have collected all the correct information and decided on the most appropriate course of action, based on their experience and judgement (the earned-recognition process). It should be noted, however, that the level of information needed to guide mitigation plans remains the same, as does the 1 December to 30 June closed season for licensing. However, the licence application process is far quicker and more efficient.
RSK has many consultants well-versed in ecology and mitigation measures, and substantial experience of applying for traditional badger mitigation licences. In addition, the company is also proud that it has the first consultant to be registered to the badger class licence. RSK has also held project-wide licences for badger mitigation measures on major projects such as large rail schemes, which substantiates its competence when it comes to badger ecology and mitigation.
If you have any questions or concerns about badgers and their involvement or implications for any scheme, please do not hesitate to contact RSK director Simon Boulter (email@example.com).