|Badgers live in families in a maze of underground tunnels and chambers called a "set." Some sets are hundreds of years old. Badgers are nocturnal animals, foraging for food at night along hedges and wooded banks. Their favorite foods are mice, slugs, insects, and earthworms. Although they can live to age 14, badgers often die or are killed at a younger age. Urbanization and agriculture can threaten the long-term survival of the species, since badgers adapt poorly to change once their sets are disturbed and they are forced to move.||
Until the 1990s, 20 percent of the badger population in the Netherlands were killed every year on the country's highways.
As their habitats were destroyed - for example, by intensive farming - the animals had fewer places to live and no easily-available food. When they ventured away from their sets to hunt for food, they often had to cross roads, where they were usually killed.
Early fences and tunnels to prevent roadkill and allow movement were not highly successful. The fences were too low and were not anchored in the ground, allowing the badgers to climb over or crawl under them and onto the road. The fences also frequently developed large holes, so they offered little protection. These deficiencies were corrected in later projects. Near the town of Heumen, for example, the national Ministry of Transport constructed five tunnels under the highway and built higher, stronger fences. Escape gates were put in the fences at one-kilometer-intervals to protect any badgers that ended up on the road.
That's not all. Workers created a "green network" between the badger sets, and Heumen Municipality incorporated rules for protecting the sets into its by-laws. Together, the fences, tunnels, green space, and habitat protection have resulted in nearly doubling the local badger population.
As for the badgers safely crossing the road...Infrared cameras and tracks in sand and ink beds demonstrate the animals are using the Heumen tunnels almost every night. Foxes, rabbits, and hedgehogs also travel through them.
Similar successes have been reported on badger-tunnel projects in other parts of the country. In fact, badger tunnels in the Netherlands have been so effective it is now standard procedure to consider them for every new highway project.
For more information, contact Hans Bekker at +31-15-2699-470 or H.J.Bekker@DWW.RWS.MinVenW.NL