Badgers were the cause of temporary traffic lights which plagued drivers for 18 months, a council has said, as it was unable to get a Natural England license to move on the animals. 

Locals in Thurlby, Lincolnshire, were bemused by mysterious traffic lights on a 200ft stretch of Swallow Hill, which were not accompanied by any visible work or road damage. 

But the temporary lights were caused by a badger sett which left part of the road unstable, Lincolnshire County Council said, while environmental restrictions meant the animals could not be disturbed over the winter and spring. 

The council applied to Natural England to be allowed to move the animals after the problem was discovered last February, but this was not granted in time for work to be carried out during the July to November window due to Covid-19 delays.

Badgers, which are protected in England and Wales under a 1992 law, cannot be disturbed outside of this period as it is when cubs are born and sows are nursing.

A second application was made earlier this year and work to remove the badgers is finally due to begin in August and will continue into September, a spokesman for the council said. 

Occasional traffic light failures have exacerbated the frustration of local villagers and regular road users.

The country lane connects Thurlby with nearby village Manthorpe. 

Bernard Champness, the clerk of Thurlby Parish Council, said: "It seems like an eternity. It’s not a busy road, but when you use it regularly it can be a pain."

Councillor Robert Reid, who represents Bourne Austerby ward on South Kesteven District Council, said: "There has been a lot of disquiet, and quite rightly so. There is the cost of the traffic lights and the inconvenience."

This month the road has been put under even more pressure due to resurfacing work on the nearby A6121.

Extra diversionary traffic was sent down Swallow Hill from June 23 while a nearby section of the A6121 is closed for resurfacing.

Councillor Reid added: "When the closure is in place it will put extra pressure on country roads including this stretch. But the night-time closure will keep disruption to a minimum."

Karen Cassar, the assistant director for highways at Lincolnshire County Council, thanked residents for their patience and added: "We are arranging with Natural England to move the badgers on safely. Once they have been relocated we will repair the damage underneath the road and reopen it."

The badgers are expected to be removed from the sett and relocated to a safe place. 

The UK has a quarter of the global population of badgers, with anywhere up to 400,000 of the animals estimated to be living in the UK. 

Strict rules protect the animals from disturbance by building work or other human activity, though controversial culls have been allowed in an attempt to halt the spread of bovine tuberculosis, which badgers carry. 

Advocates argue that the measure, which involves shooting the animals, is an effective way to halt the spread of the deadly disease, though opponents say it is unnecessarily cruel and based on flawed science. 

Seasonal restrictions on works that disturb animals are a common feature of many licenses, including for bats and amphibians, based on hibernation and breeding seasons.

For great crested newts, surveys should be carried out in the spring to check whether they are breeding in the water, while work on ponds thought to be home to them should take place in winter, when they are less likely to be present.