The nature of things
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