Badger cub ensnared in plastic dies

'Ruff' the badger cub emerging from his sett at a BBOWT reserve in Oxfordshire with another cub on April 23, 2021. Still from video by Nicolette Dowler

A badger cub on a BBOWT reserve that spent much of its life entangled in plastic waste is believed to have died.

The young male, nicknamed 'Ruff' because of the plastic collar around its neck, lived at an Oxfordshire reserve managed by the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT).

Staff and volunteers spent weeks trying to catch the youngster to remove the plastic, but were unsuccessful. Now they have highlighted the case in an appeal urging people not to litter anywhere, especially at nature reserves.

'Ruff' the badger cub pictured at the entrance to his sett at a BBOWT nature reserve in April 2021, with the collar of plastic waste stuck around his neck.

'Ruff' the badger cub pictured at the entrance to his sett at a BBOWT nature reserve in April 2021, with the collar of plastic waste stuck around his neck.

Julia Lofthouse, BBOWT’s Mammal Projects Manager  said:

“This is such a heartbreaking case. Badgers are already under threat in our area from culling, and BBOWT is running a widescale vaccination program to protect them from bovine tuberculosis (TB).

“Although we don’t have any evidence that litter caused Ruff’s death, it can’t have made life easy. He was from a healthy family living on a protected nature reserve, so it was all the more tragic to see him suffering like that. This case shows exactly what damage litter can do.”

'Ruff' the badger cub emerging from his sett at a BBOWT nature reserve in Oxfordshire with his mother on April 14, 2021. Video recorded by Nicolette Dowler.

The young cub was first spotted with its 'plastic necklace' in April this year, by a BBOWT volunteer who was using a camera to monitor the sett. The footage showed a mother badger (or sow) emerging from the sett with some of her cubs – including Ruff - who were estimated to be around ten weeks old.

Julia Lofthouse and her team started putting peanuts around the sett to encourage the cubs out in the hope of catching Ruff with a net. Later that month the camera captured Ruff tucking into the peanuts, but the tangled cub was not caught.

'Ruff' the badger cub emerging from the sett with another cub at a BBOWT nature reserve in Oxfordshire on April 23, 2021. Video by Nicolette Dowler.

For several weeks, BBOWT team members worked with the rescue team from Oxfordshire Badger Group and made attempts over five separate evenings to capture Ruff with a net, but the cub never ventured close enough to be caught. 

BBOWT even brought forward its planned badger vaccinations at the site in the hope that Ruff would be trapped for vaccination and during the process his plastic collar could be removed. The team put out traps, but by the time the cubs were independent and confident enough to go in them, camera footage indicated that only two of the cubs were still alive from the original litter of six. Ruff was nowhere to be seen and is presumed to have died.

The example of how human waste can harm wildlife comes after BBOWT’s nature reserves saw a huge increase in visitors  over the past year, as coronavirus restrictions on normal leisure activities prompted more people  to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, this has also meant the countryside has become a dumping ground for litter.

Chris Tufnell of Coach House Vets vaccinating a badger at a BBOWT reserve. Picture: Julia Lofthouse

Chris Tufnell of Coach House Vets vaccinating a badger at a BBOWT reserve. Picture: Julia Lofthouse

Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive at BBOWT said:

“People don’t always realise the devastating effect littering has on the natural environment, but this tragic case shows exactly how it can harm our precious wildlife.

“We need more nature everywhere – not more litter. We urge everyone to follow the countryside code - respect, protect, enjoy and please, take your litter home.”

'Ruff' the badger cub emerging from his sett at a BBOWT nature reserve in Oxfordshire with his mother and five other cubs on April 25, 2021. Video by Nicolette Dowler.

The story of Ruff comes after the Government announced in May that it would continue to issue licences for landowners to cull badgers for the next four years in an ongoing effort to stop the spread of bovine TB. This will put around 130,000 animals at risk of being killed.

BBOWT has been vaccinating badgers at its reserves since 2014 in order to protect its own and graziers’ cattle from bovine TB and to promote the use of vaccination rather than culling badgers.

Notes to editors

Since badger culling began in the UK in 2013, approximately 170,000 badgers – around 35 per cent of the UK population – have been wiped out. BBOWT is sympathetic to the great hardship that bovine TB causes the farming community but it does not believe that culling badgers is an effective way of halting its spread. The government has seen no definitive benefits from three years of industry-led culling of badgers in England. Accelerated research into cattle vaccination and improved testing regimes for cattle are urgently needed – and improved movement controls on cattle would minimise the risk of the further spread of bovine TB.

BBOWT has been vaccinating badgers on key nature reserves since 2014 in order to protect our own and graziers’ cattle from bovine TB and to promote the use of vaccination rather than culling badgers. The trust believes an evidence-based and scientifically reliable approach must be developed to counteract the risk posed to cattle by bovine TB.  There is robust, scientific evidence to prove that badger vaccination reduces the transmission of bovine TB in badgers. Find out more at www.bbowt.org.uk/wildlifewildlife-conservation/badger-vaccination-project

 

Ruff timeline:

2 Feb – Ruff is born (approx.)

14 April – Ruff is first recorded on camera, with plastic collar

28 April – Trust starts putting peanuts out near sett to try to catch Ruff

Late April-mid May – Trust and badger group try to capture Ruff on five separate evenings

3 May – Ruff seen on camera again

14 May – Traps are laid around sett to try to capture Ruff in order to help him

21 May – Camera footage suggests there are only two cubs left. Ruff is not seen again.