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Species Recovery Programmes > Carnivore Projects > National Polecat Survey (2024-2025)

9th January 2024

Polecat ©Jane Parsons

 

Polecats (Mustela putorius) were once a common and widespread native British carnivorous mammal that were present across England, Wales and Scotland. However, by 1915 the polecat had been eradicated from most of its former British range, remaining only in a small stronghold of mid-Wales and the English borders.

Due to a combination of factors, including legal protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the population is now slowly recovering and spreading across Britain. VWT monitors its recovery using National Surveys that rely on records of polecats being submitted by members of the public (also known as citizen or community scientists). This data is vital for research into this little-known species, which leaves few field signs for study by other survey methods.

 

National Polecat Survey 2024/2025

 

What is the National Polecat Survey?

VWT’s National Polecat Survey is appealing to members of the public to record the presence of polecats, and will run from 2024 until the end of 2025. This is the only dedicated national survey for polecats and is the fourth in a series of national surveys by VWT that have taken place since the 1990s.

 

Anyone can get involved

No prior experience is necessary, but you will need access to a computer or smartphone to submit your sighting. If you can, please send a photograph or video of the animal to help with our verification and recording.

 

How to get involved

If you have seen a polecat or polecat-type animal, dead or alive, please report your sighting(s) using any one of the following methods.

VWT’s ‘Report a Sighting’ form

 National Polecat Survey

 @PolecatSurvey

Alternatively, you can contact us via enquiries@vwt.org.uk and share your sighting information with us.

You can also find the National Polecat Survey on iNaturalist (available on mobile app and desktop computer): National Polecat Survey 2024-2025 · iNaturalist

 

Sample collections

We are also asking people to collect hair and whisker samples from polecat carcasses. The samples will be used for research purposes to investigate polecat genetics and diet.

If you have found a dead polecat and would like to collect samples to contribute to future research, please contact us for further information on how to collect the samples: enquiries@vwt.org.uk

Please only collect polecat carcasses for samples if it is safe to do so.

Polecat ©Anne Newton

 

How to identify a polecat

Polecats belong to the weasel family Mustelidae and are ancestors of the domestic ferret (Mustela furo). Like many in this family, which also includes otters, stoats, and pine martens, they have a long body with short legs.

Some key identifying features of polecats

Polecats and polecat-ferrets

Ferrets and hybrid polecat-ferrets are often kept as pets or working animals, and can escape into the wild, becoming feral. Many do not survive, but some do, and breed with wild polecats. Distinguishing between polecats and hybrid polecat-ferrets can be problematic.

If you have seen a polecat-type animal in the wild and are unsure whether it is a polecat or hybrid polecat-ferret, we would still like to hear from you.

Download this simple ID sheet to help identify a polecat 

 

Watch this short video of polecats and a polecat-ferret hybrid

What we will do with the information that is collected

The polecat records and sightings collected will be used to inform a report on polecat distribution and status in Britain. Anonymised records will be shared with Local Ecological Record Centres and mammal recorders. No personal information will be made public or shared with other organisations.

 

Useful links

The Polecat Polecat – The Vincent Wildlife Trust (vwt.org.uk)

Polecat FAQs FAQs – The Vincent Wildlife Trust (vwt.org.uk)

National Polecat Survey 2014-2015 report Croose, E. (2016) The Distribution and Status of the Polecat (Mustela putorius) in Britain 2014-2015 – The Vincent Wildlife Trust (vwt.org.uk)

Polecats and Ferrets: How to tell them apart polecat-ferret-leaflet-.pdf (vwt.org.uk)

 

 

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01531 636441 | enquiries@vwt.org.uk