Return of Polecats

A Polecat at the British Wildlife Centre.
Image originally uploaded to Flickr by Peter Trimming (CC BY 2.0)

Once scarcely seen, polecats are expanding their territory back to Warwickshire according to Dr Johnny Birks, an experienced ecologist and chairman of the Mammal Society.  He presented a fascinating talk on this species for members of the Warwickshire Mammal Group in January.

Back to England

As stated by Dr Birks, the animals that were considered impossible to encounter in Warwickshire may well be present here. Twenty years ago, within the United Kingdom, polecats inhabited only Wales. Nowadays, due to an increasing amount of food and an absence of trapping and persecution, this species is starting to spread its way back to England, where it used to be in abundance.

Distinguishable markings

Polecats have an attractive dark brown fur with a paler layer beneath. In winter this layer becomes thicker, making them appear paler. Note that some polecats can also be albino or erythristic (ginger coat). They have distinguishable white markings around their faces, ears and eyes. The face is small and blunt whereas the ears are rounded.

They are nocturnal creatures, but can be seen during the daytime in summer when adults hunt during daylight hours to feed their young.  The diet of a polecat largely consists of rabbit and rodents, but also toads, fish and birds. Polecats live generally for five years. To mark their territory they produce a very unpleasant smell. This technique is also used as a defence from predators.

Polecat-ferret hybrids

Polecats are ancestors of domestic ferrets and can successfully interbreed with escapees in the wild. Recent surveys by the Vincent Wildlife Trust suggest that around 15% of Warwickshire’s polecats may be polecat-ferret hybrids. In his talk however, Dr Birks explained that Ferrets have comparatively poor survival skills and do not pose a threat to the wild polecat population in the long term.

If you spot a polecat, please send us a record that includes details of the location, the date and by whom it has been seen. Photographic evidence will also be very helpful. You can submit it using the WBRC Species Record Submission form or email [email protected]. Your records will help us to keep the track of polecats’ distribution.

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