Update on the role of badgers in wader clutch predation at Auchnerran

Badgerlooking (1)

By Dave Parish, Head of Scottish Lowland Research 

3 minute read

On 19th April I highlighted an increase in the number of lapwing clutches predated by badgers at Auchnerran. At the time our preliminary assessment suggested that approximately 66% of clutches had been taken, all in a very short space of time. Now, almost a month later, I can provide an update. This is still preliminary: a definitive summary will be provided at the end of the breeding season when we will be better able to put the findings in the context of previous years.

Overall, the proportion of lapwing clutches hatching has increased slightly, which is great news: of all lapwing clutches of known fate found so far (including replacements from earlier failed attempts), we estimate that 29% hatched and 50% have been predated, with the remainder lost to trampling by sheep or unknown causes. Of those predated clutches, we think 58% were taken by badgers (that is, about 29% of all clutches monitored so far this year).

Again, nest fate was assessed via trail cameras but also by investigating the remains left at nest sites. The latter approach is never perfect (hence why we have some clutches that we cannot attribute to an outcome), but when combined with evidence found at nests of known fate, like those we monitor with cameras, we can be reasonably confident in our conclusions.

Lapwing (2)
Lapwing sitting on the nest

Badgerlooking (1)
Badger looking at camera

Badgerscraping (1)
Badger apparently scraping at nest contents with paw

It is important to remember that this approach is widely used by researchers around the world to estimate nest fate and it is only recently that technology has provided more accurate ways of recording activity at nest sites.

To date the oystercatcher and curlew nests monitored are all still active (having started a little later in the season than the lapwing) with no losses recorded.

As we are now more than halfway through the breeding season, it seems likely that the proportion of clutches predated by badgers – at least of lapwing – will be above average, given that no more than a few such events have been recorded previously in any one year.

Why has the predation rate been so high this year? Is it related to an increase in badger numbers or a switch in foraging behaviour? For example, the apparent reduction in badger predation rates of late is interesting and might be associated with the weather: several observers have noted badgers switching to other prey during prolonged dry weather when earthworms are less easily found – like earlier this year. Can predation of wader eggs be attributed to a small number of individual badgers? We can’t answer these questions yet, but we aim to investigate.

We have a database of badger activity at the farm from various surveys over the years that will be interrogated, which will quantify the perceived increase in badger activity over time. We will also work with our neighbours to determine the status of badgers in the wider landscape.

At Auchnerran, we have set up additional cameras all over the farm, including around the one sett that we host, to better understand badger numbers and movements – and to see if any individuals are identifiable. Alongside this we have set hair traps at strategic points known to be used by badgers: hair samples will allow us to identify individuals via genetic analyses in future, once we have raised the funds to do this.

We will also be keeping our eyes open for badger latrines so we can start to investigate diet and of course, we continue to monitor as many wader nests as possible via trail cameras and other methods. Whatever the findings, we will share them in due course.

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at 19:11 on 23/05/2021 by VE Sidord

20 years ago we saw a big increase in the number of badger setts around the farm. They were starting to seriously damage the down land, and we seeing bees nests being dug out. This farm was part of the cull and we have since seen far less damage to the down land, and have not seen any bees nest dug out. Protecting them from badger baiting was correct, but when the control is phased out their numbers will rise and the return of the damage.

Nest predation by badgers

at 18:43 on 18/05/2021 by Dick Bartlett

Well done GWCT for being honest, at last, about the badger problem. The issue has been avoided for many years for fear of a backlash from the badger lobby. RSPB has used nest cameras for over 20 years but we don't see or hear about what they revealed. 8 years ago I had to abandon a grey partridge recovery project in Eastern Scotland due to nest predation by badgers. Badgers are expanding in number and their range now reaches well into the uplands where rare waders such as Lapwings like to breed . Legal protection was given to badgers only to stop the disgusting "sport" of badger baiting. It was not given to protect them as a rare or endangered species. Conservationists keep on calling for deer to be controlled as they impact wildlife by damaging habitats, and deer have no natural predators in this country . High numbers of badgers are just as damaging and also have no predators so who will dare to take on the powerful badger lobby ?


at 16:20 on 18/05/2021 by Robert Fletcher

It’s easy to blame farming for the loss of ground nesting birds . The fact is anything that nests on or near the ground stands no chance of success with the ever increasing Badger population.

over abundant badgers destroying other wildlife

at 16:17 on 18/05/2021 by edward sanders

i heartily agree with mr evans from gobowen about the damage that badgers do to ground nesters but they also devastate the numbers of hedgehogs and hares. myself and my dad (keen naturalists and farmers) watched badger numbers increase on our holding and in adjacent woodland in the 80s and 90s. 3 sets to 11 in that 20 year period. partridges, lapwings, skylarks hares and hedgehogs took a massive dive in their numbers concurrent with increasing badger numbers. oh and they destroy significant amounts of maize crops too. maybe we should be promoting badger pie ! smoked badger hams are a delicacy in Europe. i appreciate that data is good aswell but so is observation by country folk

Lapwing nest predators

at 14:22 on 18/05/2021 by WBM

What would be interesting is, what is the breeding sucess rate of ground nesting birds and small mammals in areas where the badger culls took place. I suspect that hedghog numbers have increaed in those areas as well as the breeding success for ground nesting birds. ground nesting bird numbers can be assessed to see if they start to drop off as badgers start to reappear in those areas.

Badger predation

at 14:10 on 18/05/2021 by Jason Abbot

It is hugely important that this science backed information is broadcast far and wide , particularly to badger conservation organisations, RSPB, DEFRA , schools and on social media. I feel that we need to take a more pro-active stance in these matters as there really is no sensible argument against badger control.

Badger control - balance

at 13:49 on 18/05/2021 by John Errington

Apparently the CIA have a saying...."In God we trust; everyone else has to provide data." and I am delighted to see GWCT collating such useful evidence on the predation of wader nests. Land managers have known for ever that a surplus of badgers is a major threat to so many species. I fear that those who promote an outright ban on badger control ignore history, data and the critical fact that humans have an active role to play in the balance of nature. I am not for one moment promoting the idea that badgers must be exterminated (which would be as dangerously ignorant as trying to exterminate Hen Harriers). Nor am I saying that humans have nothing to answer for - our impact on the planet is too often horrific and it is a shame that no one is addressing the ecological disaster of the exponential growth of the human population (did we miss an opportunity with Covid-19?!?). I can only hope that Government and the various lobbying organisations can reach a sensible compromise to keep badgers and other such predatory super-species in check and allow a decent balance in the populations of all of our UK fauna.

Badger predation

at 13:00 on 18/05/2021 by Piers Austin

It would be interesting to know if nests and populations of waders and ground nesting birds have increased in areas subjected to high levels of badger culling to control bovine TB? Perhaps a survey contacting farmers and landowners in the various culling zones could be carried out, even if only by post? This kind of data is invaluable to confirm what should be obvious! Thanks

Lapwing nest predators

at 12:37 on 18/05/2021 by Michael Evans

You are proving what farmers have known for years I have 28 acres of arable ground that has had 6 to 8 lapwing nests on it for the last 50 years. A badger colony set up on the edge of the field 2 to 3 years ago . Last year there were only 2 nests and this year not one. And that’s despite being in a mid tier stewardship scheme for the last 5 years with grass margins and pollen and nectar mix plus bird seed mixes.in the same field. Mike Evans Ebnal lodge Gobowen oswestry Shropshire Sy10 7bl

Badger predation

at 12:10 on 18/05/2021 by WBW

Allowing the Badger population to have built to its current level across the UK, is nothing short of a disgrace. To allow one species to proliferate to such a point that others start to decrease dramatically is irresponsible at best. High time that a reduction of these animals takes place.

Badger Nest predation

at 7:40 on 18/05/2021 by Hugh Oliver-Bellasis

These emerging results are very important. Let us hope the results will reinforce the case for managing badger populations. It will be interesting to see if the badgers switch to curlew and oystercatcher? Do you have data on the badger population over the last 5 years?

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