We often refer to field evidence, yet often I think that a little bit of field evidence can get stretched so thinly that it ceases to have any substance at all. This is one of my OTT soap box topics that I will likely revisit from time to time, so it has to get one of my first bloggings.
It used to be that in Scotland, any badger hole whether in use or not had to be treated as a valid sett under the Badger Act if it was in an occupied clan range. This was nice and simple, but was a bit of an easy get-out for consultants when faced with a hole of unknown origin. We could scratch our heads and other bits, and say that it looked like a very old badger hole and therefore needed a license. No risk and no loss of integrity on our part.
Then came the recentish SNH guidance which has made me think a bit more about the Badger Act:
So now we have to judge whether a structure is ‘in current use’. By this, I assume that it means that the structure is used as a resting site, rather than visited to scent mark or any other type of use. The Badger Act defines a sett as “any structure or place which displays signs indicating current use by a badger”. Following this definition, you therefore cannot have a disused badger sett as it is a contradiction of terms (!!)
I think my problem with the whole badger thing is that it contains two ambiguities. The first is that current use isn’t nailed down (I assume it means current use as a diurnal resting site?) and also that fundamentally, badger field evidence at a structure does not mean it’s rested in the structure.
This leads me onto the suggested monitoring period being just 2 weeks (longer in the winter). Given the sporadic use of outliers, a sett (or should I be saying a badger hole in the ground, formerly known as “sett”) can be unused for much longer than this, especially during the winter. Then there can be a significant bout of activity. If I go travelling for a few weeks (I wish!), I leave my house and it remains my house for the period I’m away, despite the lack of curtain movement, footprints, fingerprints and lack of disappearance of weeds from the garden indicating current occupation. I’m sure you get my drift.
There is certainly a line to be drawn with what is protected under the act, and what isn’t. The SNH guidance gives a good practical steer, but ultimately a client needs to use an experienced ecologist who will be able to reason past the footprint under their nose and assess the likelihood of badgers being able to squeeze into a rabbit warren, or returning to a very (take big breath) quiet hole in the ground which used to have sett status, aka disused badger sett.