The polecat returns?

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.

Photo taken on 1st October 2015 approx 5pm  Location – Drewsteignton near Bowbeer Farm  SX 719901

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.

Here is a live polecat – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Always a good day when an extinct animal returns to Devon!

10 thoughts on “The polecat returns?

  1. Hi Adrian, that’s really interesting. I swear I saw a polecat crossing the road between Sandy Park and Drogo a couple of weeks ago. Bryher

  2. Pingback: More on Devon polecats | A Dartmoor blog

  3. So I did see a polecat! Driving back from Whiddon Down towards Moretonhampstead on Monday afternoon about 3:00, I was certain a polecat crossed in front of me just before the turn for Murchington Caroline

  4. Pingback: It’s official polecats are back – one less ghost in the landscape – A Dartmoor and Devon blog

  5. Pingback: It’s official polecats are back – one less ghost in the landscape – Fingle Woods

  6. Hi,
    I travel around rural North Devon quite a lot and have noticed on the odd occasion rather small ‘badger’ corpses or remnants off – however, when travelling in Wales in the summer of 2018 I saw a very clear polecat road kill, (it didn’t carry any of the ferret features, I expected).
    Anyway yesterday 4th December 2018, I was traveling in Hartland and saw another possible polecat corpse, heading towards Hartland Point. Intrigued i stopped and had a look. It had been badly mauled by a car and the head was crushed, but it was very dark, without any light guard hairs, it appeared very similar to the one I saw in Wales. I am familiar with ferrets, so am aware it could be a former domestic, gone feral.
    has anyone else seen what they think might be a polecat in North Devon?
    Martin Caddy PRoW Warden.

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