Reduction of badger ( Meles meles ) setts damage to artificial elements of the territory
ABSTRACT Abstract In the Alessandria section of the Turin railway-basin (northern Italy), the presence of the badger (Meles meles) setts in railway embankments causes progressive track subsidence. Rail traffic is dangerous and continuous maintenance and surveillance are required. In the past, the problem was managed without success, by trying to damage and disturb the setts. In 1997 the Italian Railways decided to promote some specific research. Four used setts have been found along the surveyed lines. The choice of a suitable site to dig the sett appears to be influenced only by pedological parameters. A comparison of used and unused banks revealed that soils with significantly lower percentages of gravel and higher percentages of fine sands are preferred. Badgers have been deterred from using one of the found setts, and successively the railway embankment has been covered with chain link fencing. Methods and results are discussed.
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ABSTRACT: The paper describes habitat preferences, spacing, range sizes, group composition and territorial behaviour of the European badger in a study area in southern England. Animals were followed at night with the aid of radio-location and night-vision equipment, and colour-marked food was used to establish range-size.Journal of Zoology 08/2009; 184(1):1 - 19. · 2.04 Impact Factor
- Journal of Zoology 03/2009; 231(4):668 - 675. · 2.04 Impact Factor
Hystrix, (as.) 11 (2) (2000): 95-98
REDUCTION OF BADGER (MELES MELES) SETTS
DAMAGE TO ARTIFICIAL ELEMENTS OF THE TERRITORY
ALESSANDRO BALESTRIERI AND LUIGI REMONTI
Dipartimento di Biologia Animale, Universita di Pavia, Pzza Botta 9, 27100 Pavia
ABSTRACT - In the Alessandria section of the Turin railway-basin (northern Italy), the presence of
the badger (Meles meles) setts in railway embankments causes progressive track subsidence. Rail traf-
fic is dangerous and continuous maintenance and surveillance are required. In the past, the problem
was managed without success, by trying to damage and disturb the setts. In 1997 the Italian Railways
decided to promote some specific research. Four used setts have been found along the surveyed lines.
The choice of a suitable site to dig the sett appears to be influenced only by pedological parameters.
A comparison of used and unused banks revealed that soils with significantly lower percentages of
gravel and higher percentages of fine sands are preferred. Badgers have been deterred from using one
of the found setts, and successively the railway embankment has been cqvered with chain link fenc-
ing. Methods and results are discussed.
Key words: Meles meles, badger setts, wildlife management, North western Italy.
Badgers generally cause modest damage to
human activities. Game-species predation is
negligible and, most of the time, damage to
agricultural crops is slight. However, badger
setts may be built in the sides of artificial
slopes, such-as road and railway embank-
ments or flood levees, causing lack of stabil-
Along the railway lines of the Alessandria sec-
tion of the Turin railway-basin (northern Italy),
the presence of badger setts in the railway em-
bankments causes progressive track subsi-
dence. Continuous surveillance and mainte-
nance are required to avoid risks in human
This situation has been known for many
years and attempts at disturbing the setts
have proved unsuccessful. This approach to
the problem leads to short-term results and
may cause unnecessary suffering.
At the beginning of 1997, the Italian Rail-
ways promoted some research, whose first
aim was to limit badger-sett damage to the
railway tracks. Definite solutions which
took badgers safety into consideration were
required. In the autumn of the same year, a
sample experiment of exclusion of the ani-
mals from one of the found setts was per-
This paper deals with: habitat factors affect-
ing sett-site choice; methods for excluding
badgers from artificial slopes and for pre-
venting further problems; the sample exper-
MATERIAL AND METHODS
The study area covers approximately 2100
km2, with about 250 km of railway tracks,
between Lombardy and Piedmont. It is char-
acterized by flat farmland (mainly rice,
maize and wheat); provided by flood levees
or road and railway embankments, are the
only forms of sloping ground. These areas
are covered with robinia (Robinia pseudoa-
cacia), elders (Sambucus nigra), Euonymus
europaeus, Cornus sanguinea, brambles
(Rubus sp.) Phytolacca decandra and nettles
A. Balestrieri and L. Remonti
(Urtica dioica). There are few oaks (Quer-
cus robur) and ashes (Fraxinus excelsior) or
willows (Salix sp.) and alders (Alnus gluti-
nosa) near trenches and canals.
The embankment where the sample experi-
ment has been performed is 250 m long and
has a mean height of 10 m. It joins the road-
way to a railway and road bridge over the
Sesia river (Candia Lomellina town, Pavia).
The sett had 9 entrances (4 well-used holes)
and covered a 70 m long portion of the em-
Habitat factors affecting sett-site choice
In the study area, 4 railway embankments
occupied by badgers and 6 unused banks
were compared taking into consideration the
following variables: mean height of the
slope; percentage of scrub-cover; percentage
of wood-cover: pedological parameters.
From the 10 banks, 5 kg samples of soil
were collected and dried. They were sieved
by 11 sieves with meshes ranging from 30
mm to 0.038 mm. The times of sedimenta-
tion of the samples with more than 15% of
fine components (diameter ~0.038 mm)
were measured by dipping 100 g of materi-
al (< 2 mm) in a 4% solution of Sodium
Results were expressed as a percentage of
gravel (2-60 mm), thick sand (0.6-2 mm),
medium size sand (0.2-0.6 mm), fine sand
(0.075-0.2 mm), silt (0.002-0.075 mm) and
clay (<0.002 mm).
Methods for excluding badgers
Badgers were excluded from their sett by
closing its entrances during the night, when
the animals were expected to be out forag-
ing. For one month, the sett was controlled
weekly, using a monocular image intensifi-
er (Wild Leits 3x), to determine the times of
emergence. Night-watching started about
half an hour before the sunset and ended at
02.00 a.m. Nocturnal badger activity started
between 20.40 and 22.15 hours. Two ani-
mals were observed. The sett entrances were
closed at 23.00 hours.
Each side of the railway embankment was
covered with a 2.7 mm thick galvanized
chain link fencing, with 8 cm meshes,
pegged down securely by iron stakes. Vege-
tation was previously cleared and succes-
sively it was allowed to grow back through,
so hiding the net.
The fencing was laid down in a couple of
weeks (October 1997), 10 days after bad-
gers exclusion and in that time no attempt to
re-enter the sett was observed.
After the end of the work, the area was
checked monthly to monitor the activity of
the badgers by looking for latrines and foot-
prints (last control: October 1998).
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
In the monitored area, 4 used setts were
found along about 28 km of railway em-
bankments (0.14 settskm). Only pedologi-
cal parameters seem to affect sett-site choice
The slopes selected as a sett-site are com-
posed of significantly higher percentages
of fine sand (U= 1, p= 0.02 Mann-Whitney
U Test) and lower ones of gravel (U= 0, p=
Having protected the embankment, many
footprints were observed along the slope in
more than one check, and a latrine was
dug nearby. No attempt to re-enter the sett
was observed. By the autumn 1998, the
fencing had been completely covered with
The pedological parameters of soils are of
major importance in the choice of sett-sites
(Dunwell and Killingley, 1965; Kruuk,
1978). In the investigated area, badgers avoid
soils with a prevalence of large-size compo-
nents (gravel), which probably are not easy
to dig and are not sufficiently cohesive and
(Clements, 1974), badgers prefer soft soils,
with a high percentage of fine sand and silt.
However, comparisons with other studied ar-
eas are difficult, because several research
projects do not express the percentages of
the various soil components in any details.
to other studies
Reduction of badger setts damage
Table 1 - Factors affecting sett-site choice.
30 90 60
1 1 2
% thick sand
% fine sand
29 32 42
52 15 45 39
1 0 0 4
To deter badgers from a sett, english authors
(Harris et al., 1990; Neal and Cheeseman,
1996) suggest two main methods: their
forced exclusion, immediately followed by
the protection of the slope, or their translo-
cation. The first one is preferred, leaving
badgers free to find another sett-site in their
own territory, without suffering excessive
stress. Moreover, translocating badgers, to
look for a suitable release site is really dif-
ficult and time expensive.
It is necessary to determine whether there
are any alternative sett-sites within the terri-
torial boundaries of the badger group. Our
sett was near the river banks of the Sesia,
which offered many suitable habitats. This
factor and probably the continuous distur-
bance suffered in previous times helped
make the experiment a success.
Neal (1977) suggests closing the sett en-
trances between 23.00 hours and midnight.
However emergence times vary according to
several factors, which include day-length,
weather, disturbance and the amount of cov-
er around the sett. So at least some night-
watching is necessary to determine the best
times for closing badger holes.
Three methods are reported to protect flood
levees and embankments (Harris et al.,
1990): to cover the slopes with a chain link
fence, to build a fence around the bank, or
to protect it with electric fences (Wilson,
1993). We preferred the first option, which,
even if expensive, guarantees long-term ef-
ficacy. Moreover it does not require main-
tenance, it’s completely hidden by vegeta-
tion, and it doesn’t prevent other species of
vertebrate from using the banks for protec-
tion or feeding. Electric fences, which are
cheaper and easier to place, can only be
used as a temporary solution, before more
expensive but definitive interventions.
Wild mammal management and the reduction
of their possible damage to human activities
require careful planning. Badgers are not an
exception. This first Italian study allowed us
to check the presence of badger setts along
the railway embankments of the investigated
area and to plan successful actions in order to
minimize undesirable damage.
We would like to thank A. Nigro, Ferrovie dello
Stato, C. Prigioni, Dipartimento di Biologia An-
hale Universith di Pavia, M. Tumiati and A.
Vercesi, Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra Uni-
versith di Pavia.
Clements, E.D., 1974. National survey in
Sussex. Sussex Trust for Nat. Cons.
Mamm. Rep. for 1970/1.
A. Balestrieri and L. Remonti
Dunwell, M.R. and Killingley, A., 1969. The
distribution of badger setts in relation to
the geology of the Chilterns. J. Zool.
Lond., 158: 204-208.
Harris, S., Jefferies, D., Cheeseman, C. and
Cresswell, W., 1990. Problems with bad-
gers? RSPCA Wildlife Department.
Causeway, Horsham, 60 pp.
Kruuk, H., 1978. Spatial organization and
territorial behaviour of the European
badger (Meles meles). J. Zool. Lond.,
Neal, E. and Cheeseman, C., 1996. Badgers.
T & A D Poyser, London, 271 pp.
Neal, E., 1977. Badgers. Blanford Press,
Poole Dorset, 321 pp.
Wilson, C.J., 1993. Badger damage to grow-
ing oats and an assessment of electric
fencing as a means of its reduction. J.
Zool. Lond., 231: 668-675.