My colleague Dave Rickwood from the Woodland Trust recently sent me this picture of what he thought was a roadkill polecat and asked my opinion. I thought it was a polecat ferret opposed to a ‘proper’ polecat. He also consulted the Vincent Wildlife Trust for a second opinion (I suspect on reflection that I was the second opinion!) as they are carrying out a national polecat project.
Polecats are a native mammal and a member of the mustelid family which also includes weasels, stoats, pine martens, otters and badgers. They were exterminated in the 19th century by Victorian gamekeepers but a small population survived in Wales (in the same place that the red kite held on). It is thought that the polecat in Devon went extinct between 1880 and 1915. In recent decades they have begun to recover and have started to re-colonise England. I remember in the 1990s that the first polecat for a century was found in Northamptonshire where I was then working. Polecats are specialist rabbit hunters.
The Vincent Wildlife Trust have replied to Dave and have confirmed that it is indeed a polecat! Very exciting. The VWT weren’t overly excited so I think they must have other records from Devon in addition to this one. Dave found another ‘polecat’ 2 months earlier about 1km south of Cheriton Cross SX 781923 near to Haylake. So keep your eyes open for live animals or roadkills. If you find what looks like a roadkill polecat take photos and ideally put it in your freezer and then send it to the Vincent Wildlife Trust. For more information on polecats see here and for more information on the VWT’s polecat survey see here.
Always a good day when an extinct animal returns to Devon!