Ancient sleight of hand used to entice ermines
SOME of the best advice I ever received about wildlife involved me pressing my lips against the back of my hand and making the sound of a squealing rabbit. As mad as it may sound, it works a treat for attracting inquisitive stoats and weasels into the open, and sometimes as close as your shoes.
If you know where they are residing your chances are particularly good, and it seems that these stunning little musteloids find it difficult to resist the possibility of an easy meal.
This ancient trickery, used in days gone by to shoot them, can be just as effective if you chance upon a stoat before watching it slip off into the undergrowth or vanish into a dry stone wall.
Another bit of advice which I’ve always remembered involved how to tell the difference between a stoat and a weasel.
One is weasily identified and the other is stoatally different!
The fool-proof method is that the weasel is tiny and around half the size of its larger cousin, and the stoat has a black tip to its tail.
Unfortunately for the stoat, its white winter coat, including the black tip to its tail, made the animal particularly attractive to furriers, and for many centuries there was a healthy bounty on ermine skins for Royal robes.
Look closely at some of the Queen’s robes next time there is a state event; the white fur with the black spots, at a guess, equals one hundred dead stoats.
The Prince of Wales, considering his current conservation credentials, may well be embarrassed if reminded that his Investiture robes in 1969 contained severalhundred ermine pelts.
The robes were made by Ede and Ravenscroft, crafted from hand-woven purple velvet lined with ermine, and then finished with an ermine cape and collar fully-lined with white silk.
It was similar to the robe made for the previous Prince of Wales, including original solid gold clasps.
In addition to many monarchs, for His Majesty King George III’s coronation in 1761, Ede and Ravenscroft was commissioned to clothe 16 dukes, 46 earls and over 100 peers. That’s a lot of stoats. Historically, ermine was the status quo fur for royalty and the most sought-after fur for court presentations and official portraiture.
Ermine, as it turns out, became linked with Western European courts due to a symbolic legend stating that an ermine would ‘rather die than be defiled/soiled’, as translated from the Latin: ‘Potius mori quam foedari’.
Hence its representation of royal ‘moral purity’.
My favourite sighting occurred when I was visiting the old Crowden Outdoor Centre in the late 1980s.
It was a tough decision I had to make each morning as I left Bleak House: ‘Where shall I eat this morning, the YHA or the Outdoor Pursuit Centre?’ It was a hard job etc.
On this particular morning I caught sight of a stoat slithering over the snow like a ribbon before sliding into a hole.
One blow on the back of my hand and out he came, right on cue.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop
●● An ermine, commonly known as the stoat (Mustela erminea), in its white winter coat.