Badger Watch – Paignton

A very unusual project – to light a sett of feral badgers inside Paignton Zoo. The exhibit was designed over the winter of 1999 and opened in Spring 2000.

In 1999 badgers had moved into a hoofstock enclosure in Paignton Zoo. Badgers are a protected species in England and so could not be disturbed, and the hoofstock had to be removed for fear of their legs breaking if they stepped into a badger sett. Dr Peter Stevens, then director of Paignton Zoo, proposed to put the badgers ‘on display’ – the first time this had been attempted. Badgers are nocturnal, and lighting would be required.

The mammal ecologist Dr Paul Chanin was a trustee of Paignton Zoo, and he made the application to English Nature for a licence to work on the badger sett, which necessarily involved some excavation. We did a lighting test and agreed on a viewing depth of about 25m, to limit the visibility of the elephant enclosure beyond. Poles were restricted to the boundary of the site, and positions were carefully probed to avoid disturbing any tunnels.

A viewing hide was constructed with room for about 12 visitors. A window for soundproofing gave a view over the site, and artificial tunnels with windows were built to allow viewing of the badgers underground. Badgers like peanut butter which was applied liberally to attract them.
‘Badger Watch’ was a weekly ticketed evening event at the zoo during the summer months.

Badger Watch at Paignton Zoo was successful for many years but in the mid-2010s activity at the sett declined. A subsequent outbreak of bovine TB in the zoo and concerns about the risk posed by badgers led to the closure of the exhibit.

Simon Corder presented a paper on the badger exhibit at the 6th International Symposium on Zoo Design, held at Paignton Zoo in 2004. The session titled, ‘the perfect exhibit…’