Badger cub’s death on Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust nature reserve prompts litter warning

BBOWT has announced the sad death of a baby badger entangled in a plastic collar on one of its reserves

Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 11:41 am
Updated Tuesday, 6th July 2021, 11:42 am

A badger cub on a nature 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 a 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 spent most of his life entangled in a plastic collar
'Ruff' the badger cub spent most of his life entangled in a plastic collar

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 programme 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 goes to show exactly what damage litter can do.”

The young cub was first spotted with its plastic 'necklace' at the Oxfordshire nature reserve 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 10 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.

Ruff is now believed to have died

Later that month, the camera captured Ruff tucking into the peanuts, but the tangled cub was not caught.

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 then 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.

BBOWT has been vaccinating badgers at its reserves since 2014

BBOWT chief executive, Estelle Bailey, 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.”

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.