One thing for sure, when a mother badger and her three cubs are huddled together in their underground sett, the condensation and damp can get pretty severe.
I know this because I have been monitoring one of my local badger setts over the last few weeks with my trail camera, and in the process have unearthed some astonishing video footage that has delved deep into the secret lives of these truly special animals.
The sett is remote, lying hidden within a large pine wood, and one remarkable aspect of the behaviour of this badger family is that they regularly emerge in the late afternoon to stretch their legs and to give their bodies a good shake to rid themselves of condensation droplets on their fur. Primarily nocturnal, I have never known badgers to appear regularly so early in the day, and I think they do so because of the quietness of their location.
Indeed, one afternoon, I was busily unstrapping my trail camera from a tree trunk when one of the cubs suddenly emerged from the sett entrance and sat for a while looking curiously at me. I was only a few feet away, so I froze like a stone so as not to spook it. This cub had obviously never seen a human before and satisfied that all was well and I presented no danger, ambled casually back down underground. It is possible that this cub had heard me and had surfaced for a quick look at the source of the noise. It was a spell-binding encounter, underlining that when it comes to watching wildlife, always expect the unexpected.
The cubs are playful, although their rough and tumble can border on the violent, with individuals often pinning each other down and then biting hard upon the scruff of the neck. Ernest Neal and Chris Cheeseman in their seminal book, ‘Badgers’, believed cub play served a number of different functions, including promoting development and coordination, as well as strengthening bonds between members of the same social group. From watching my trail camera footage, I am convinced it also serves to create a dominance hierarchy within a family or clan.
Other video revealed the mother badger gathering bracken and grass for bedding, which was bundled under her chest and held in place by her forepaws, before she then jerkily moved backwards so as to carry the material underground. Badgers are fastidious animals, frequently refreshing their bedding, and they use latrines, which are specially dug shallow depressions in the ground.
Watching these badgers go about their daily business has been a privilege, and my inescapable conclusion is that these animals are intelligent with complex and sophisticated lifestyles. While my trail camera has revealed much, I suspect that there are still many other mystical secrets waiting to be revealed, and this badger clan will captivate me for some considerable time to come.
Each badger sett is occupied by a social group of adults of both sexes, typically six animals, but sometimes many more. Young usually remain within their social group, but some dispersal also takes place.