Polecats in Suffolk

Thursday 21st January 2016

Winterwatch are set to feature polecats on this year's show (Beginning 26 January). In the past few years there have been increased numbers of sightings of polecat-type mammals in Suffolk and the surrounding area.

In 2014 - 2015 Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) led a national polecat survey, the results of which will soon be availalibe.

In both 2014 and 2015 there were eight records of true polecat in the Suffolk area. Johnny Birks’ talk at the Suffolk Mammal Conference in November 2014 mentioned a population of ‘true’ polecat in north Essex which was spreading northwards into Suffolk. Not surprisingly, a cluster of records occurs around Bures St Mary, Leavenheath, Assington and Newton. However, there have been some additional records of ‘true’ polecats elsewhere in the county which don’t seem to follow any pattern of colonisation. In 2014, there were records at Wickhambrook and Bardwell and in 2015, a record at Woodbridge, two records at Lackford and another at South Lopham near Redgrave. The latter was caught in a rabbit trap on 17th November 2014 and released. Another polecat recovered at Redgrave as a road casualty on 14th April 2015 was originally thought to be the same animal caught at South Lopham, but comparison of the facial mask indicated this was a different animal.

It can be difficult to identify if a specimen is a true polecat or a polecat ferret hybrid. A well marked facial mask with the black on the face reaching the nose and lack of white fur on the body are characteristics of a true polecat, but it is not always clear-cut due to hybridisation. Photographs are vital to enable verification to take place.

Due to the presence of hybrid polecat-ferrets in Suffolk, the pattern of recolonization of polecats into Suffolk is always going to be hard to chart. However, their spread should continue to be monitored by sending in records and photographs so that hopefully, we can get a better picture of their recovery to the county.

Appeal for polecat carcasses
Although the polecat survey has now finished, if you have collected a polecat carcass, VWT would still like to hear from you -  please email enquiries@vwt.org.uk or phone 01531 636441. They will arrange for a postage box to be sent for the carcass to be returned in, free of charge. It is preferable to freeze the carcass as soon as possible after collection, to prevent decomposition. Unfortunately they cannot take carcasses that have maggots on them or are very badly damaged. Carcasses will be used for rodenticide analysis and genetic analysis.

More details can be found at: http://www.vwt.org.uk/projects/national-polecat-survey/



Tagged with: Species, Pole cats