As we were returning home around 18.00 last night (12th) a large mustelid ran across the road by Steart "Gate" (the large lay-by on the left by the small hump as you drive from the beach car park into the village) and then stopped to investigate the base of a bramble bush. We had very good, close views in the headlights; clearly pale-faced with a black mask; pale body with dark "shoulders" and tail; my first-ever polecat. It is possible that this was not a wild animal but an escaped polecat-type ferret, and I am asking around regarding this possibility, but if anyone has any information on the status of polecats in Somerset, I would be interested (or of course info on escaped ferrets!).
Its my belief or rather evidence suggests that we have a small population scattered across the East of the County. The occasional squashed, run over by a motor vehicle, Polecat can be found as Road kill. A few Years across whilst stood on top of a Farm Gate in the Nettlebridge Valley scanning for Migrants an adult Polecat with Young walked under the Gate!
I know that Bruce has encountered a few over the Years whilst out and about. This doesn't answer your question but I guess they are very much under recorded?
I have also seen a Ferret on Queen Sedge Moor, maybe 2 Years ago.
I recall with horror some 35 Years ago when a Ferret killed 40+ of my bantams by biting their heads off. Things with the Neighbours were never the same again.....
just outside sos boundaries so to speak, but a polecat at chew earlier in year
Thank you John and Mike. Nice to know a wild polecat is possible down here. Have made no progress yet on escaped ferrets but will keep trying. My thanks for your replies.
Over the last couple of years about half a dozen polecats have been found dead beside the roads between Kingston St Mary and Bagborough and photographic evidence has been provided to SWT to confirm the identification and provide evidence of a widespread population in this area. SWT were previously only aware of two centers of population, one in Yeovil, and one in the area around Washford Cross, in West Somerset.
Bill, the RSPCA Centre at West Hatch will do IDs if required. I found one dead at Wrantage. It was a cross, breed, not quite the real thing.
Funny you should mention those areas as I have seen at least two roadkill below Bagborough on the A358 that COULD have been.
Last year i saw people working ferrets on the dunes of Wall common, so an escapee could be possible.
Lets hope not.
I've never seen one myself but the Vincent Wildlife Trust are interested in sightings and carcasses.
As Pete says ,the Vincent wildlife trust are the guys who survey these and the distribution map on their website shows them having spread down into central Southern England but not Somerset - but that map is dated 2006 - 9 years out of date ! 5 years ago picked up one at Wrantage which was assumed(?) to be a hybrid, have found 1 nr Ilminster , and no less than 4 now on the road between Hambridge and Curry Rivel in the last two years.One was a night time sighting of a live one ,and the other 3 were all found early in the morning or after dark indicating that they hunt by night? Just this week picked up a beaut - undamaged freshly dead and measured 25" nose to tip of tail as did one of the others. Photos of 3 of them on request if you email me - all legs/feet black, white muzzle,ear tips and small white tufts at start of eyebrow, no white patch on throat/chest.Black 'long' fur with yellowish underfur...also generally covered in pale hair lice and ticks after rigor mortis has set in looking for new hosts ! All these were found along rabbit infested banks/field edge areas.
I don't know who Vincent wildlife trust are, but Somerset Wildlife Trust are the consultative body to who polecat sightings should be reported.
As far as I am aware, strictly speaking the (possibly statutory)keeper of wildlife records in the county is the Somerset Environmental Records Centre, an arm of the Wildlife Trust, to be found at http://www.somerc.com/homepage/
The only reference to polecat on the SWT website concerns their trainees seeing a captive one. The Somerc site also makes no specific mention of polecats. By contrast the Vincent Wildlife Trust seem to be a mine of information on the polecat and other mammalian species. I have no axe to grind - they just seem to be 'on the case'.
We at SERC [Somerset Environmental Records Centre] are certainly interested in all things Somerset. We have arrangements with organisation such as the Vincent Wildlife Trust to pass data to them. This ensures that data does not get duplicated. A number of years ago we worked with VWT on Stoats and Weasels in the county.
I can tell you that a population of non ferret cross Polecats is know to exist further to the east but as had been said it is an under recorded species that has been spreading across the county in the last 10 years moving south and west.
Just as a note there are about 100 terrestrial mammals in the UK. SERC has records of 14,011 species in Somerset. Please send us your non bird records.
Data Manager, SERC
Interesting article in British Wildlife Vol 20, no 4 april 2009 237 -244. The Polecat in Britian -continuing recovery.
Amongst other things information there about differences between true Polecat and interbreeding, (Polecat-ferret).
Havn't checked VWT website but they feature heavily in the article, presumably some information on their website about pure polecat and interbreeding.