Whilst mapping the new road and car park at Fota Island Wildlide park, a badger sett of about 25 was discovered. We had to develop a revised route to avoid disturbing them, which has meant a delay to the project. We took the opportunity to meet up with Dr. Paddy Sleeman, a badger expert from the Dept. of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science, and he very kindly penned these words about badgers:

Badgers are a medium-sized carnivore, about the size of an average dog. Using peanuts, which they like to eat, one can get a good view of them as they emerge from their setts (burrows) each evening. They have black stripes along their faces which are very noticeable. Pictured are two adult badgers at Fota eating peanuts in the 1990s.

Badgers are common in Ireland – there are around 90,000 on the whole island. They tend to be particularly common in well-wooded coastal areas such as Fota, Great Island, Castle Ward in Co. Down and coastal parts of Co. Donegal. They like woodland as it provides good places for them to dig their setts, prefer¬ably within close proximity to fields or meadows where they forage for food.

Environmentally, they are important as ecological engineers, which means that they are responsible for changing and improving habitats for other animals and plants by their digging. They are also important for the dispersal of fruits such as elder and blackberries. They eat the fruits and, unlike birds which often damage seeds, they rarely bite seeds and so this leads to the survival or more seedlings around badgers’ setts.

Badgers are frequently the victims of road casualities, particularly at this time of the year which is their breeding season. However, the public are wise to avoid dead badgers as they may be infected with Tuberculosis.

The Badgers on Fota and Great Island were studied in the past, mainly to do with the development of a vaccine, against Bovine TB. For example baits were laid carrying vaccine and were left at their setts in the 1990s. The badgers were then captured and those which had eaten the baits were identified by biomarkers. There was also work using a cafeteria system where badgers were given a wide choice of flavoured food¬stuffs to see what they really like to eat. Their favourite by far was chocolate!

Written by Dr. Paddy Sleeman