An­cient sleight of hand used to en­tice er­mines

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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.

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