The badgers arrived at Kew from nearby Richmond Park and cannot easily travel further east because London is so built-up. Badgers are protected by law, so Kew staff leave them to their own devices. They are difficult to spot because they are nocturnal creatures, so are rarely out during the Gardens’ opening hours.
In 2005 we conducted a survey of the setts in Kew and it is thought that there are 24 different setts. Of these, four main setts are probably in use at any one time as badgers use different ones at different times of year.
There are believed to be around 24 badgers in total with numbers unlikely to have increased during the last five years. Wakehurst also has a large population of badgers and runs guided evening walks to observe them in the wild from a specially constructed hide.
Badger setts comprise a labyrinth of tunnels. Badgers live in family or social groups (known as a clan or cete) and emerge at night to forage for earthworms. Because badgers are creatures of habit they follow regular paths as they travel from their setts through fields, meadows and woodlands to find food in the wild. They continue using favourite routes even when roads are cut through them, which is why the car is now their greatest threat.
In 2003 Kew created a human-sized badger sett to demonstrate how badgers live. It is located in the southwest corner of the Gardens, close to the Wildlife Observation Centre. A giant forked oak branch leads visitors into the badgers' subterranean world, where food stores, sleeping chambers and nests are connected by tunnels. All the tunnels are at least one metre high; one is 1.5 metres high and accessible to wheelchair users.