Law & Protection


Badgers and their setts are legally protected from intentional cruelty, such as badger baiting and from the results of lawful human activities such as building developments. Sadly many thousands of badgers are still killed illegally each year. Also, due to the nature of the crimes, there are relatively few prosecutions.

In 1973, the Badgers Act was passed by Parliament. This was amended by the by the wider-ranging Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981 which was further amended in 1985 and by the Badgers Act 1991. The more important amendments were necessary because of loopholes.

The main legislation protecting badgers in England and Wales is now the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. Under the 1992 Act it is an offence to:

  • Wilfully kill, injure, take or attempt to kill, injure or take a badger.

  • Possess a dead badger or any part of a badger.

  • Cruelly ill-treat a badger.

  • Use badger tongs in the course of killing, taking or attempting to kill a badger.

  • Dig for a badger.

  • Sell or offer tor sale or control any live badger.

  • Mark, tag or ring a badger, and

  • Interfere with a badger sett by:

  • Damaging a sett or any part thereof:

  • Destroying a sett:

  • Obstructing access to a sett:

  • Causing dog to enter a sett: and

  • Disturbing a badger while occupying a sett.

The 1992 Act defines a badger sett as: “any structure or place which displays signs indicating current use by a badger.

The penalties for breaking the law regarding badgers are:

  1. Up to 6 months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £5,000 or both. The fine may be multiplied by the number of badgers.

  2. Forfeiture of any badger or skin relating to the offence or any weapon or article used.

  3. Order the destruction or disposal of dogs; and

  4. Disqualification for having custody of a dog.

There have been various amendments to the 1992 Act, most significantly through the Hunting Act 2004. Provided certain conditions were met, the 1992 Act used to permit hunts to obstruct the entrances of badger setts to prevent foxes seeking refuge. The Hunting Act 2004 with came into force on 18th February 2005, repealed this concession to the hunts.

The main exception to the 1992 Act is that licences may be issued under certain circumstances such as housing developments, forestry and to prevent serious damage to property etc. The applicant must first carry out a badger survey to ensure that the work will not break the law. Without a survey, conducted by an expert, developers will not be allowed to proceed with their project.

A number of firms now offer to carry out these surveys for a fee. Once the survey has been completed, it is then possible to apply for a licence which is issued by Natural England, the government’s advisor on the natural environment. There is a ‘close season’ for the issue of licences from December to June when badgers are breeding. Once this over, the licence allows badgers to be moved by placing one-way gates at sett entrances for a period until it is clear that there are no badgers underground and then work can proceed.

When caught digging a sett, the onus is on the defendants to prove their innocence rather than rather than the prosecution having to prove their guilt. Previously many offenders were able to claim that they were digging for foxes or rabbits (which are both still legal activities) and that they didn’t know that they were digging a badger sett.