Badger Digs

Badger Engraving 1788Badger Engraving 1788

As urbanization took place, underground tunnels constructed by badgers became an increasing problem. Additionally, their homes, or badger setts were also cohabited by foxes, rabbits, rats, weasels and other vermin. So badgers became that elusive prey several breeds of terriers were bred to hunt.

The Badger Dig

Badger HuntingBadger Hunting

Huntsmen, accompanied by their terriers, would independently travel to to the mouth of a badger sett. This might have existed for generations of badgers grew to cover huge areas in both in width and depth. Every four feet or so there would be junction where the sett branched in two or more directions. These led to chambers in which badgers slept on a bed of moss or, grass or leaves.

Often there were several beds in the same sett. The setts could also be in layers, where foxes, rabbits and other underground creatures lived. These might be on different levels, for example rabbits as well as badgers on the top layer, and badgers and foxes below in a second or even third layers below.[1] 

Digging out the BadgerDigging out the Badger

"I know of one locality on the Quantocks where the holes occupy an area of woodland approximately one acre in extent...more than 50 holes were counted... the breeding chambers are often situated under roots of a tree or some large stone or boulder. The badgers would remove some of the earth from above the roots or stone, and on this platform one of the adults would lie with its face towards the entrance. It is this impregnable position it could could drop on any intruder"[2].

The Badger


Badgers are about two feet long, plus their tail. Their feet are very short and strong, with five toes on each foot and those on the front feet having particularly strong claws well adapted for digging and defence. Their skin is thick with strong hair. They are usually a dirty grey colour, mixed with black. Additionally, as badgers are nocturnal, they confine themselves to their sett during the day, feeding at night. So, badgers are difficult to spot and even more difficult to catch[4].

The Role of the Terrier

Sealyham Facing a BadgerSealyham Facing a Badger

With an adult badger weighing up to 40 pounds, not only did it require an extremely plucky terrier to face them, the terrier had to have the correct short legged construction to enable it to dig the badger out. These terriers must also possess a rare blend of courage and intelligence to weave their way through dark, cold and damp passages relying almost entirely on their sense of smell and sound. Additionally, a young terrier should not be asked to face a badger alone as he would, probably go boldly up to it immediately and get himself badly bitten. For this reason, he should be accompanied by older dog which has already mastered the art of 'holding a badger'[3].

How the Terrier Worked

Bagging the BadgerBagging the Badger

The normal procedure was to find the sett occupied by a badger and send in a terrier. The dog was trained to find the badger but keep its distance. If it approached too near it could get badly mauled or killed. Its job was to prevent the badger from digging away. So if the badger turned to dig, the terrier would leap on it and give it a nip. This would make the badger turn again so the terrier would retreat. This, called 'holding the badger' often continued for some hours, while the diggers excavated the tunnels in the direction of the sound of the barking terrier.

When close enough, badger tongs would be used to drag the badger out. It would then be dispatched by putting it in a sack so it could be transferred to another district and released. Badgers became protected by law in England in 1992.


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References and Further Reading

[1] Captain Jocelyn Lucas, 'The Sealyham Terrier' Pub. M.C. T.H.Crumbie Ltd, Halford Street, Leister UK 1922 'Badger Digging' Page 69

[2] Ernest Leal 'The Badger' Pub Penguin Books Ltd New Naturalist Monograph series 1948 Page Chapter 12 'Badger Sets and Life Underground' Pages 146 - 148

[3] W. Taplin  "The Sportsman's Cabinet" Printed and Published in 1804 for the proprietors, J. Cundee, Ivy Land Paternoster-Row  Page 269

[4] Thomas Berwick, 'A General History of Quadrupeds' First Published 1814 by Longman and Co. London and Wilson and sons, York. The Badger Page 283