The young male was nicknamed "Ruff" because plastic got wrapped around his neck, Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), which manages the reserve, said.
BBOWT staff and volunteers at the nature reserve spent weeks trying to catch the youngster to remove the plastic but were unsuccessful.
It is unclear if the plastic caused Ruff's suspected death, but BBOWT is highlighting the case in an appeal urging people not to litter anywhere, especially at nature reserves. It says the plastic will have made his life more difficult.
Julia Lofthouse, BBOWT’s Mammal Projects manager, said: “This is such a heartbreaking case. Badgers are already under threat in our area from culling, and BBOWT is running a widescale vaccination program to protect them from bovine tuberculosis.
“Although we don’t have any evidence that litter caused Ruff’s death, it can’t have made life easy. He was from a healthy family living on a protected nature reserve, so it was all the more tragic to see him suffering like that. This case goes to show exactly what damage litter can do.”
The young cub was first spotted with its 'plastic necklace' in April this year by a BBOWT volunteer who was using a camera to monitor the sett. The footage showed a mother badger (or sow) emerging from the sett with some of her cubs – including Ruff - who were estimated to be around ten weeks old.
Julia Lofthouse and her team started putting peanuts around the sett to encourage the cubs out in the hope of catching Ruff with a net.
Later that month the camera captured Ruff tucking into the peanuts, but the tangled cub was not caught.
For several weeks, BBOWT team members worked with the rescue team from Oxfordshire Badger Group and made attempts over five separate evenings to capture Ruff with a net, but the cub never ventured close enough to be caught.
BBOWT then brought forward its planned badger vaccinations at the site in the hope that Ruff would be trapped for vaccination and during the process his plastic collar could be removed.
The team put out traps, but by the time the cubs were independent and confident enough to go in them, camera footage indicated that only two of the cubs were still alive from the original litter of six. Ruff was nowhere to be seen and is presumed to have died.
The example of how human waste can harm wildlife comes after BBOWT’s nature reserves saw a huge increase in visitors over the past year, as coronavirus restrictions on normal leisure activities prompted more people to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, this has also meant the countryside has become a dumping ground for litter.
Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive at BBOWT said: “People don’t always realise the devastating effect littering has on the natural environment, but this tragic case shows exactly how it can harm our precious wildlife.
“We need more nature everywhere – not more litter. We urge everyone to follow the countryside code - respect, protect, enjoy and please, take your litter home.”
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