More on Devon polecats

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about polecats around East Dartmoor – see here. Since then my colleague Mick Jones, the Lead Ranger for North Dartmoor told me that he had seen a couple of dead polecats on the A38 near Ashburton and collected the corpse of one of them. He has subsequently skinned the animal and prepared the skull as a specimen.

Polecat 4
Frontal view showing the teeth

Polecat 1
I was surprised how solid and how heavy the skull actually was

Polecat 2
Top view – apparently polecats have a great deal of muscle around the neck

It is of course sad to hear that polecats are being run over on our roads but it is an indication of how many of them there now are in the county. Lets hope they continue to flourish and expand in their range. I have also subsequently heard from an old friend of mine from SE Devon that polecats are frequent roadkills also in East Devon and West Dorset.

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.

Polecat
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.

512px-Storm_the_polecat
Here is a live polecat – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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