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New Roads and Badgers

RSPB Spotlight on Badgers book
James Lowen explores the lives of badgers and their communal living, feeding habits and threats to their conservation. Click here to buy:
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So far as road construction is concerned, this can provide some of the most difficult and damaging effects on badgers and their setts.

In the case of housing, it may well be possible to accommodate the badgers needs, by re-planning the locations of houses, or alter roads and drainage. In the cases of major roads, once a route has been decided on, that route will not change, even by a few metres. If anything, the problems with road construction are getting worse, as modern roads seem to be built with a plethora of slips roads, roundabouts, central reservations, road-side drainage, soft verges and so on; and it is often these which really eat into the green of the countryside. In the "olden-days", roads were built more in keeping with the lie of the land, and junctions were small, compact "T" junctions, rather than enormous great roundabouts.

So far as the badgers are concerned, before permission can be granted various land Surveys will have been done which should have discovered the presence of any badgers and other protected species. Given the current anti-road lobby, you can probably expect the presence of badgers to be disclosed to the planning authorities, who are then legally obliged to take into account the badgers in granting permission; or setting out conditions attached to the permissions. That said, it is always worth while notifying your local Badger Group about setts, so they can help keep the badgers safe (whether there may be any new roads or otherwise). As well as helping the badgers, this can also help safeguard green spaces too.

Whilst remedial action to help Setts threatened by road schemes is all too often essential, it is far better to try to prevent problems arising. So if the local Badger Group or Wildlife Trust are able to undertake surveys, they should register with the Department of Transport and the local County Council as consultants, and ask for all new road schemes to be notified to them as soon as is possible, so that they can report on the possible effects on the local badger population. The earlier a road scheme is reported to the local Badger, Group or Wildlife Trust, the easier it is to minimise the impact on the badgers. This is especially true where their territorial boundaries are on both sides of the road, as they will need time to discover where the badgers go to forage. They will also need to find out whether a sett is in current continuous use; or whether it is used every now and again; or whether it is genuinely out of use and has been for a long time. A sett which is apparently unoccupied in winter, can often return to use in the spring or summer.

In terms of the setts, these should have been established by members of the local Badger Group or a recognised Wildlife or Badger Consultants. If the exact plans for the road is laid over the sett locations, it may well be the case that only part of the sett needs to be destroyed; and only a part of the sett closed. That said, you will need to get a high-resolution map, such as 1:5,000 or 1:10,000. The maps you buy in the high-street (typically 1:25,000 or 1:50,000) may be fine for walkers, but are not likely to have enough detail on them for badger or road planning purposes. As a cheaper alternative, Google Maps is a very good maps site, which has good aerial photos too.

The next step is for the badger experts to assess the likely effect the road will have on the badgers (and other protected species, like bats and water voles). They will need to have clear answers on how setts will be affected, how paths will be altered or blocked, how badgers will cross the road and how their foraging will be affected. This will then lead to suggestions about building new artificial badger setts (sometimes known as badger bunkers), Wildlife Bridges or Tunnels/Underpasses and the installation of badger-proof Fencing. Clearly, this planning stage is of exceptional importance, not just to the badgers; but also to the accountants who look after the money. It almost goes without saying that it is an order of magnitude cheaper to install a wildlife tunnel and then build a road over the top of it; than to build a road, and then have to excavate a new tunnel underneath it!

Another health and safety aspect is planning to reduce wildlife and human casualties. ALL new roads result in an increase in wildlife casualties for the first few days, weeks and months. Planning issues may be covered by proper badger-proof fencing (with one-way exit gates to allow badgers to get off the carriageway). They may also cover the use of road-side warning signs (for motorists) and Roadside Reflectors (to try and spook wildlife off the carriageway when headlights are approaching). Hitting a 15kg badger in a car at high speed will not normally flip the car over, but the actions taken to avoid a collision may lead to accidents and the loss of human life. All too often new roads are opened as soon as the road surface is completed; and the fencing completed afterwards. In order to protect the wildlife, the fencing ought to be completed before cars are allowed on the road; and it is hoped that badger licences and planning permissions will make such requirements mandatory in the future.

Any new artificial sett will normally by built and the badgers phased into using it over several weeks. Initial familiarity may lead to them exploring it; with them gradually being excluded from their existing sett; and their existing sett eventually being filled in or destroyed. The exact timetable and methods will be specified by a badger licence obtained by the badger group or the wildlife consultant.

The worst possible scenario for the badger clan is so-called translocation. This is where it is not possible to expand a part of their existing sett or to build an new sett nearby; and the badger and their sett have to be moved as a whole to another location entirely. This is a last resort, and will be resisted by the vast majority of badgers, badger groups and consultants. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the technique may not be all that successful, although more research is needed to find out why this might be the case.

Real difficulties with translocation projects often lie with finding a suitable location, which provides a good area for a sett, plentiful food, good feeding and foraging grounds, freedom from interference and being far enough away from other badger groups. In simple terms, putting two different badger clans in the same territory is likely to result in "war" between the clans, with extensive fighting, injuries and starvation. Such stresses in badgers are also likely to result in pregnant sows failing to produce cubs; and the possible emergence of wildlife infections (it is believed that the badgers immune system may be depressed when under stress).

As well as all the "technical" research that badger scientists carry out; a few research projects on translocation projects would be very useful; as it would allow for far better planning and decision making by badger groups and English Nature licence providers.

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