Saturday, July 24, 2010

Polecat Musings

Last night I dreamed that I saw a live Polecat and managed to photograph it. I can't remember the details but it shows just how much this beastie has been on my mind in recent weeks. I'm hoping to spend a few nights out in the countryside in the next week, baiting suitable areas, lamping, and using Richard's night vision scope (thanks for the loan, Richard). In the meantime, here's some Polecat excerpts from a 1960 book, British Animals of the Wild Places, by J. Wentworth Day:

'We stood one night in a little willow holt, a tangled jungle of soaring poplars, graceful osiers and blackthorn bushes, where soil was black and oozy and tasselled reeds and cream-yellow meadowsweet grew shoulder high. It was on the edge of Wicken Fen, that untamed wilderness of reeds and sedge, and peaty waters, where still the bittern sometimes booms on nights of spring, and the wild duck rears its brood.
That night, as we stood beneath the whispering leaves of the tall poplar that rose, faintly murmurous, a great silvered spire, reaching for the stars, there came a quiet patter on fallen leaves. The crackle of a twig. Quick insistent footsteps.
Moonlight struck a wan, white patch of bare ground between the bushes and the reeds. I stood in the black shade of the poplar. Suddenly, out of the reeds snaked a long, sinuous animal. Half as long again as a rabbit it seemed in the moonlight. It paused suddenly. Lifted a fore-foot. Eyes gleamed greenishly towards the half-seen figure in the poplar shade. My companion, a lion-hearted terrier, stiffened like a wire-brush. He plunged forward.
The strange animal whisked sideways in the moonlight, disappeared almost instantaneously in the reeds. The dog crashed after it. There was a momentary gleam of a rich dark-brown coat - and then the most appalling smell that ever smote the nostrils of man or boy in an English wood. That smell seemed to linger for days.
That was my first, and last, vision of a true, wild polecat in his native haunts in England...

....The average man can live a lifetime without seeing - still less smelling - this prize murderer of the wilds...

...There is little to commend polecat or marten, although both are handsome, courageous and ancient. They were here long before the Romans came. Both, however, are ruthless killers. They kill for the sheer lust of slaughter. Game birds, hares, rabbits and poultry are never safe when either is abroad.
In the North Country, particularly the Lake District, I believe that the polecat still survives in limited numbers, and, indeed, some years ago there existed a scratch pack of smallish hounds of a more or less nondescript breed, which were used for hunting "foulmarts", as the polecat is called, among the rough moorland pastures and the drystone walls of the Lake District...

...In the winter of 1943 I was staying at Clochfaen Hall, far up on the head-waters of the Wye in Montgomeryshire. There, on a wild unkeepered estate of some four thousand acres of moorland and sheep farms, tracks of polecats were plainly visible in the snow. One farmer even told me that he had seen no less than fourteen of them hunting in a pack! Heaven help any new-born lamb which that bloodthirsty gang should chance to encounter.'


  1. We get them in our area and sadly I frequently see them run over. I also found a dead one curled up on my muck heap a couple of weeks ago. Luckily I have seen live ones as well and once had one that visited one of my hen huts every afternoon for a couple of weeks, or a couple of weeks after I first spotted it - perhaps it had been visiting much longer. It certainly seemed to be enjoying the eggs.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Kerry - I'm quite envious of your sightings, though I shouldn't be as I saw the 3 young polecats at College Lake last year (just before Simon King!). As you know, Wales was the stronghold for the species for many years until gamekeepers and the like started losing their jobs and the polecats started moving east. Some years ago, a number were also introduced to Hertfordshire,quite close to us. When I get out over the next few weeks, I'm planning to put some eggs out (I suppose the foxes will get to them first, though!),
    Let me know if you get any more live sightings,