HOW TO... photograph badgers: locating and seeing them

Badger
Tutorial

One of the most challenging subjects I’ve photographed to date is badgers. These wonderful, charismatic and clumsy creatures have received a very poor rep over the years and suffered at the hands of humans for many centuries.

They are also nocturnal and elusive animals, making photographing them even harder. If you follow some key steps however, you increase the chance of having success!

Where to photograph badgers

For me locating a sett was by far the most challenging aspect when I decided to work on badgers as a project. Due to the persecution they face by humans, publicly accessible information into their whereabouts is understandably non-existent.

Badgers live in underground tunnels called setts in small families, leaving very little above ground to hint at their presence, but look out for the following things:

  • Latrines – Badgers are very hygienic and clean animals who leave their excretions in latrines. These often mark their territory, but can be scattered around. Look for fresh droppings in small holes in the ground.
  • Tracks – Tracks are often more difficult to come by, but searching for prints with 5 toes and distinct claw marks will hint towards a Badger being nearby.
  • Sett entrances – These are by far the easiest way to distinguish whether a badger is nearby. A sett entrance is often an ‘sideways D’ with the flat bit at the top – a fox den which is more circular.

When to photograph badgers

Once you’ve located a suitable sett, the waiting game begins. Visiting in the evenings is advised and it’s essential that you choose a suitable vantage point to watch them from. To do this you need to have some basic knowledge of badgers and their physiology:

  • Eyesight – badgers eyesight is extremely poor, however they can make out shapes and movement very well. Avoid casting a silhouette across the horizon behind you, wear dull clothes and don’t move!
  • Sense of smell – badgers have an extremely keen sense of smell. Avoid any perfumed or strong scented sprays, deodorants or products and ensure that you are downwind from all sett entrances (the wind direction blows into you as you face the sett).
  • Hearing – badgers have relatively good hearing and will be startled by any noise they are not accustomed to. Avoid loud, rustling clothes or burst mode on your camera; use a silent shutter mode!

You must also consider whether you are likely in any way to disturb the badgers when approaching or leaving the site, so keep far back and ensure you have a clear path back when you want to leave.

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Badger

When do badgers appear?

Depending on the sett and the individuals within it, you may be onto a winner or may need to locate a different sett. Some badgers will comfortably come out during daylight whereas others will wait until the sun is down to even consider it.

The direction the sett faces in relation to the sun, the weather and the availability of food will affect the time they first appear.

Badgers are less likely to come out when it’s raining or windy as these elements make it more difficult for them to assess whether it’s safe or not. They’re also more likely to appear earlier if the conditions have been particularly dry as they struggle more to source food.

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Badger

Important things to consider when photographing badgers

Badgers are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 in England and Wales, meaning it’s illegal to:

  • intentionally capture, kill or injure a badger
  • damage, destroy or block access to their setts
  • disturb badgers in setts
  • treat a badger cruelly
  • deliberately send or intentionally allow a dog into a sett
  • bait or dig for badgers

‘Noise, additional light or vibration’ are stated as things that can disturb badgers and they are issues extremely relevant to photographers. If you do locate a sett, stay away from the entrances and avoid stepping on or around them.

I also strongly advise against using a flash with badgers. Although they do not rely on sight, it will upset and disturb them unnecessarily.

Information regarding the location of badgers is highly sought after by wildlife criminals, so I advise that any setts you do locate are kept quiet. Although you may act legally and ethically around a sett, others may not whether intentionally or otherwise.

Coming soon: photographing badgers: lens selection and camera settings.

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