THE LONG AWAITED RETURN OF THE POLECAT TO SUFFOLK The polecat (Mustela putorius) was driven to virtual extinction from Britain as a result of persecution during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. In Suffolk it has been extinct for around 100 years. Since the Second World War, however, the polecat has steadily been expanding its range eastwards across the UK from its refuges in Wales, and specimens have been turning up recently in Cambridge (Bullion, 2009) and in Essex (Dobson, 2001). In 2006 a confirmed polecat (Birks, 2008) was found dead on a road at Red Lodge in the north-west of the County, the area of Suffolk where, according to Rope (1911), they had held on longer than in the rest of Suffolk, before eventually being wiped out. Since then there have been no further polecat records until 2010. On 10 June 2010 I was driving along the A143 road near Marsh Morgen, Stradishall (TL751533), in south-west Suffolk, when I noticed a darkish animal lying in the gutter on the other side of the road. I was able to turn round and park near to the animal. Upon approaching it on foot I could see at a distance that the colour of the fur was of a polecat type, but due to hybridisation between true polecats and domestic ferrets, the pelage is not always a good indication of a true polecat. However, my excitement grew when I inspected the facial area. True polecats usually have a dark nose, as opposed to a light coloured one, a feature that is usually found on ferrets, and it also had light coloured fringes to the ears. This animal had both of these features present (Plate 1). I took several photographs of the dead animal, and then forwarded them to Dr Johnny Birks, the UK authority on polecats, for his comments. He confirmed that this was Suffolkâ€™s second modern day polecat record. He noted that there were no obvious ferrety signs on the animal, although he did point out that it was a little light in colour for a polecat. He therefore suggested that it was a true polecat, but not of the classic colouring. He also pointed out that it had a balding tail (Plate 2), a feature that is often found in true male polecats during the summer, and that the reason for this is not known. Although there have been several ferret records from Suffolk in recent years, and a few polecat/ferret records, nearly all of those have come from the eastern parts of Suffolk. The odd exceptions have been ferret records from 10km squares TM05 and TM03 (see Bullion, 2009). This second record (Fig. 1) confirms the long held view that re-colonisation of Suffolk by the polecat will take place from the west of the county, and especially in the south-west. In the future other polecats will be found in Suffolk, and it is likely that road kills will account for many of them. Some, or all, of these may emanate from releases in Hertfordshire (Dobson, 1999). Polecat looking animals should be carefully examined, and photographs taken, showing the key features. The habitat should also be noted. Polecats appear to have a predilection for water courses.
Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 46 (2010)
Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 46
Figure 1. The distribution of the polecat Mustela putorius in Suffolk. Acknowledgements I am grateful to Dr Johnny Birks for confirming the authenticity of this record and to John Dobson for reading this paper and adding valuable content. References Birks, J. D. S. (2008). The polecat survey of Britain 2004–2006: A report of the polecat’s distribution, status and conservation. The Vincent Wildlife Trust, Ledbury. Bullion, S. (2009). The Mammals of Suffolk. Suffolk Wildlife Trust & Suffolk Naturalists’ Society, Ipswich. Dobson, J. (1999). The Mammals of Essex. Lopinga Books, Wimbish. Dobson, J. (2001). The welcome return of the Polecat Mustela putorius to Essex. Essex Naturalist 18: 66 Rope, G. T. (1911). The Victoria history of the Counties of England. A history of Suffolk. Vol. 1: 215–233. Constable & Co., London. Jeff Martin 17 Moss Way West Bergholt Colchester Essex CO6 3LJ
Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 46 (2010)
J. R. Martin J. R. Martin
Plate 1: Although the face is a little lighter than the classic colouring of a true polecat, the dark nose and light edges to the ears indicate that this specimen, found on a road in south-west Suffolk, is a true polecat (p. 1).
Plate 2: Rear end of the south-west Suffolk polecat showing the bald tail of a male in summer pelage (p. 1)