10 January 2004
Badgers endanger British prehistoric sites
Burrowing badgers are actually causing havoc on Salisbury Plain (Wiltshire, England) as their tunnelling activities threaten to destroy hundreds of ancient burial sites. The decline of hunting badgers for food and bristles for shaving brushes and laws to stop badger baiting have boosted their numbers across Britain. So, a fast-growing population of badgers, attracted by easy digging conditions, is building a network of tunnels across the plain that is endangering some of Britain's most important prehistoric landmarks.
Bronze Age burial mounds, Iron Age settlements and the remains of Roman villages could be lost forever unless prompt action is taken to stop our furry friends from wrecking this historic area. But, despite rumours to the contrary, English Heritage and Defence Estates are not considering a mass cull. Instead, they are discussing a number of alternatives, such as 'evicting' the badgers and covering the monuments with fencing, or filling the tunnels with soil.
Amanda Chadburn, inspector of ancient monuments for the south-west region of English Heritage, said: "The burial mounds could be completely netted over with galvanised steel. "This allows vegetation to grow on top, so it doesn't look unsightly, but prevents badgers from tunnelling through the archaeology. Fencing is expensive, though. It cost £20,000 to fence off White Barrow, near Tilshead, six years ago and there are 300 other similar monuments that need to be protected. We're talking about huge, huge sums of money, the kind of money we just don't have."
In recent years, badgers have tunnelled into 52 Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age enclosures on Salisbury Plain. The burial mounds and other earth works around here are ideal territory for badgers because the soil in them tends to be looser and less compact than normal," said Miss Chadburn. "That means that, when they make their setts, which can be quite extensive, they cause a huge amount of damage to the archaeology. Lots of broken pottery around the entrance to a sett is a good indication of how much damage they have caused. When you see this, you know the badgers have reached the primary burial site and completely trashed it - it's becoming a real problem."
Dr Allan Morton, the Ministry of Defence archaeologist, said Badgers have burrowed into key sites such as the late Bronze Age East Chisenbury Midden, a rare accumulation of the remains of ceremonial events, built of layers of bones, flint, pottery and manure like a giant 'chocolate cake'"
Miss Chadburn added: "Some of the sites on Salisbury Plain are World Heritage sites, and once they're gone, they're gone - you can't regenerate archaeology." The 94,000-acre plain has 2,500 archaeological sites, more than 300 of them protected by law as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
Sources: The Observer (4 January 2004), Salisbury Journal & Avon Advertiser (9 January 2004)