Polecats on the Urban Fringe

The European Polecat (Mustela putorius) isn’t a mammal that most people would readily associate with Birmingham and The Black Country, but it appears, from recent records, that the fringes of the conurbation seem to be serving as an increasingly-appealing hunting territory for these once much-maligned carnivores. 


The Polecat is a member of the Mustelid family, which also includes weasel, stoat, badger, mink and otter.  They have long bodies, short legs and fur which appears dark brown with characteristic white markings on the tip of their ears and at end of their snout. 


Polecats are mostly nocturnal animals which make use of various habitats including woodland, river valleys and farmland, where they live in burrows.  They are carnivorous, and their prey includes rabbits, frogs, small rodents, small birds, toads, spiders, slugs and snails.


Historically in Britain, the once-widespread Polecat has been heavily-persecuted by gamekeepers, resulting in the extinction of the species from England, although populations remained in Wales. 


Thankfully in more recent times the species appears to be once-more expanding its range into England and, according to studies by The Vincent Wildlife Trust, the West Midlands Region has become a Polecat stronghold. 


Although, traditionally adverse to urban areas, recent sightings seem to suggest that the Polecat may be occasionally straying into the outskirts of our conurbation, in particular the western fringe of Wolverhampton. 


These sightings are important in gaining an understanding of the spread of Polecat populations across England, the barriers to its re-population of certain areas and can also be important in protecting its key habitats.


Spotting Polecats in the wild however can be tricky as Polecats are considered to be a direct-ancestor of the domestic ferret, and are known to interbreed with ferrets to produce fertile offspring.  The resulting Polecat-Ferrets hybrids can often bear similar markings as ‘true’ Polecats making them difficult to distinguish.


We would be interested in hearing about any potential Polecat sightings you have.  If you think you may have seen one, we would like to hear from you.  For further details about mammals, you could download the Atlas of The Mammals of Birmingham and The Black Country from the EcoRecord website.  http://www.ecorecord.org.uk/?q=news/publications