The Vincent Wildlife Trust yesterday produced a report which showed how the polecat has naturally spread from its former 19th century stronghold in Wales back into much of England and parts of Scotland. Formerly the animal which is related to weasels, stoats and pine martins was a common animal across the UK but persecution by Victorian gamekeepers meant that they were eradicated from all of the country except for an enclave in rural mid Wales. You can read more about the polecat work of the Vincent Wildlife Trust here.
I have written about polecats on Dartmoor and in Devon before – see here and here. At the time there was some uncertainty whether they were polecats for feral polecat ferrets. The map for polecat distribution from 2000 did not show them living in Devon.
I have coined the expression ‘ghosts in the landscape’ – species now extinct in the countryside only now present in our memories. The polecat was a ghost in the landscape but is now back.
Its great to hear of a positive conservation story and it is interesting that the polecats returned under their own steam – they were not re-introduced.
So what other ‘ghosts in the landscape’ are there in Devon? There are lots but here are a couple of examples – pine marten and red squirrel. The pine martin is making a bit of a comeback in certain parts of the country and is being re-introduced into Wales. Maybe in due course the pine marten will return to Devon (it went extinct in the late 1800s, again as a result of Victorian gamekeepers). If it does return it might offer the prospect of the return of the red squirrel (which died out in the 1950s). Pine martens are very good predators of grey squirrels – the species that ousted the reds.
The Vincent Wildlife Trust is an excellent mammal conservation charity and was set up by Vincent Weir who was in the shipping business. He was a millionaire and supported many conservation causes throughout this life. He sadly died in 2014. I was fortunate to meet him in the mid 1980s when I was Director of Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust. I met him in his City offices and he was kind enough to donate some money to the Trust so that we could carry out a substantial management review which saved the day as at that time we were finding the going tough! He was a quiet but generous man who later in his life focused his efforts into the Vincent Wildlife Trust which has subsequently done so much great work on pine martins, polecats, otters and bats. There is a lovely tribute to Vincent Weir on the website of the VWT – see here.