ritain’s rabbits need to look out – a swift, svelte rabbiter par excellence is gaining ground. The polecat is the perfect size for chasing them into their burrows (the species also targets rats and other small mammals). Yet while most of us have heard about the recovery of the otter and pine marten, the quiet comeback of their bandit-masked relative is one of our least-known conservation success stories.
Solitary, highly elusive and mainly nocturnal, this mustelid is easily missed and its scats can be hard to find. But records are nevertheless on the up. From a low point in the early 1900s, when the species was confined to a small area of mid-Wales and the English borders, it has crept east to recolonise central and southern England. Its spread has been tracked by The Vincent Wildlife Trust for 20 years, most recently with the third national survey during 2014–15.
Polecats fare best in lowlands, where they den in rabbit burrows, hay bales and farm buildings. They are increasingly spotted on trailcams and in car headlights, and even visit gardens where they raise families under sheds and decking and in piles of compost.
is mustelid conservation officer for The Vincent Wildlife Trust: