The na­ture of things

Pole­cat

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Il­lus­tra­tion by Bill Dono­hoe

THE wild mustelids of this coun­try in­clude na­tive stoats, weasels, ot­ters, badgers, pine martens and pole­cats, added to which you might come across the small and dark Amer­i­can mink or even feral fer­rets. All are long-bod­ied hunters, but the elu­sive pole­cat, Mustela puto­rius, be­came ex­tinct across most of Bri­tain dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, fol­low­ing cen­turies of hu­man per­se­cu­tion.

Its last strong­hold was in mid Wales, with the an­i­mal’s for­tunes only chang­ing quite re­cently, af­ter re­duced use of trap­ping in the 20th cen­tury. Par­tial le­gal pro­tec­tion of the species has been in place since the 1980s and the cause of this lithe lit­tle car­ni­vore re­ceived fur­ther uplift via an in­creased rab­bit pop­u­la­tion, due to the wan­ing of the myx­o­mato­sis virus.

All of this has en­abled pole­cats to re­turn to much of Eng­land, par­tic­u­larly in cen­tral and south­ern coun­ties. Un­fussy about habi­tat and re­sid­ing in a wide range of land­scapes pro­vided prey is at hand, they’re not easy to spot, how­ever, rest­ing by day for long pe­ri­ods and ven­tur­ing out to hunt af­ter dusk.

Wear­ing a glossy dark coat and a pale face with a ‘ban­dit’s mask’ of dark fur across the eyes, a true pole­cat might eas­ily be mis­taken for its long-do­mes­ti­cated ver­sion, the fer­ret, but, as many es­caped fer­rets have bred with the wild pole­cat pop­u­la­tion, hy­brids are wide­spread and known as pole­cat-fer­rets, of­ten with vari­able fur mark­ings. KBH

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