The Secret Life of Badgers

Last night I went to a fascinating lecture given by Mike Noonan, a DPhil student with the Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru). This was organised by Yorkshire Mammal Group. WildCru have been studying badgers at Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire for the last 25 years.

The main focus of the talk was the development of new tracking devices for monitoring badger movements above and below ground. They are now collecting a vast amount of data, which is challenging many of the previous assumptions about badger society.

Every movement is being tracked

The new collars have three components that measure how a badger is moving and where it's moving to, above or below ground. A 'tri-axial accelerometer' records the pitch, yaw and roll of badgers (!) giving a good idea of what the badger is actually doing at a given time. Radio tracking only works well above ground, so they are using magneto-inductive devices to track badger movement below ground. Previous collars might give a reading every hour at best, accurate to the nearest metre, but these devices plot a position every three seconds, with an accuracy of about 30cm.

Recording every movement of the badgers underground soon produced a detailed 3D map of the sett and its chambers. They've found that badgers typically return to their sett several times in the course of a night (my camera trapping revealed that), but they rest up in outlying chambers of the sett. Deeper chambers are used during the day. The badgers moved between chambers in the sett far more than previously thought.

Movement of four badgers over a period of a day (Andrew Markham, WildCru)

Badger latrines were thought to mark strict territorial boundaries of each social group. The latest research shows that badgers move freely between these 'territories', often visiting neighbouring setts and staying over for several days. Badgers communicate largely by scent. Latrines are now seen as the badgers' social media sites, where olfactory information is exchanged.

Badger latrine in the snow

More information about the research can be found at:
http://www.wildcru.org/research/the-badger-project/

Comments

  1. I'm sorry I missed this talk. Sounds fascinating and the little clip an insight. Will visit the badger project to learn more

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