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How to spot badger cubs and why you shouldn’t miss them

Badger cubs come out from their underground setts in late May and you can see them playing and exploring in the evening summer sunshine until July. Robert E Fuller has a lifetime of watching cubs as they grow. He shares his tips on how to look out for them in the wild.


Badger cubs emerging from underground dens photo by wildlife artist Robert E Fuller

As we watch the countryside slowly springing to life, it’s amazing to think our largest and most distinctive wild carnivore, the badger, has had cubs since February. They will already be several weeks old and safely tucked away in a labyrinth of tunnels, known as a sett or den. The sow will have nursed her tiny young of two to four cubs through one of the coldest months of the year. To preserve energy she will have lowered her own body temperature and been quite lethargic. By late March, the cubs have begun exploring the underground passageways and, until mid May, two months after they were born, the cubs have begun to venture above ground. Badgers are highly sociable creatures and normally reside in a loosely related clan, or cete, with a dominant boar (male) and sow (female). The sett itself is an unmistakable series of interconnecting entrance holes measuring at least 25cm wide. Downhill of each hole is a huge spoil heap.

Badger cubs Reference photograph by wildlife artist Robert E Fuller

Badger Cubs Emerging Reference Photograph by Robert E FullerSome setts are truly ancient and are even recorded in the Doomesday book in 1086. Imagine how many generations of badgers they have seen? The main sett can have several subsidiary outposts in their territory which are commonly used by any one out of favour with the rest of the clan, like younger subordinate males. A network of well worn paths radiate out from them. This is a good indicator of the sett being active and of how many individuals are present. Setts usually accommodate between five and 10 individuals. These numbers swell with the arrival of new cubs and so, although you can’t see much on the surface, there is plenty of activity going on underground.

Having youngsters below ground can be messy so regular spring cleaning sessions are particularly important. Piles of old bedding are brought out for an airing whilst new bedding in the form of old leaves, bracken and dead grasses are gathered from close by. If you see a pile like this it’s usually a good sign that there are cubs underground.

It is well worth waiting outside in the evening to watch for the moment that the cubs emerge. Badger cubs get so excited and are desperate to play. The video above shows one cub running round an adult in circles, it is so overjoyed to be out and about. Click on the link to watch it, it is so heartening to see the badger cub’s boundless energy!

One night, I was waiting for some badgers to emerge when I heard a noise behind me. It was a large sow, who had obviously used a hidden exit hole. She was hastily reversing towards me, not her best angle for a photograph! You could see a large bundle of grass and bracken tucked between her chin and chest as she shuffled along backwards gathering any stray bits with her front legs like a road sweeper backing up. It looked quite unusual and rather ungraceful, but obviously the best way to get the job done.

As she arrived at the hole she was clearly pleased with the volume of bedding she had managed to gather in one go and trotted off, forwards this time, to collect another bundle. She was making the most of the dry weather. This sow was so busy with her task and was holding her head so low in order to secure the bundle she hadn’t noticed me. Badgers have incredibly poor eyesight, relying mainly on scent and hearing.

But her activity had not gone unnoticed by her two cubs who rushed out. It was early May and the cubs were still small, about the size of my size 10 boot. They looked like a cross between a humbug and an old fashioned loo brush that had been backcombed. They soon discovered the pile of new bedding and mischievously began spreading it all over the spoil heap.As the sow arrived with the next bundle she could see what her little treasures had been up to. With this second bundle she took no chances and to avoid any further sabotage of her spring clean decided to take the fresh bedding straight underground.

Badger cub emerging from den reference photo by artist Robert E Fuller

First outing: badger cubs by wildlife artist Robert E Fuller

Summer is the best time to see badgers because lighter nights make them much more visible. You can book a trip to watch badgers at Dalby Forest; Dalby Forest, near Scarborough 01723 882295;

I’ve painted badgers many times, they are one of my favourite wild subjects to paint. Take a look at my paintings of cubs and follow this link to my gallery to see more.

Badger cubs painted by artist Robert E Fuller
Badgers at Twilight, limited edition print by Robert E Fuller. Click to buy.


Badger cubs by artist Robert E Fuller
Three Badger Cubs, limited edition print by Robert E Fuller Click to buy


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