How to help with the joint Mammal Society/VWT Polecat Distribution Survey 2004-2006

Johnny Birks

The Mammal Society is joining forces with The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) to organise a three-year polecat distribution survey of Britain. Starting in January 2004 and running until the end of 2006, the survey will involve examination of polecat bodies (usually road casualties) or clear photographs of bodies collected by naturalists and members of the public. We need to check specimens to decide whether they are true polecats, ferrets or hybrids. This distribution survey is separate from the polecat and mink abundance monitoring exercise organised by the VWT every autumn.

The aim of the distribution survey will be to confirm the presence of polecats in as many 10km squares as possible over the three year survey period. So as to spread recording effort efficiently we aim to collect evidence of no more than two ‘good’ polecat bodies from each square (so don’t be offended if we decline offers of bodies once a 10km square is ‘full’!). On the basis of anecdotal reports of the polecat’s continuing recovery in Britain we expect the survey results will confirm a significant range expansion since the last survey finished in 1997.

We are also interested in recording the distribution of feral ferrets and polecat-ferret hybrids in Britain, so photographs or bodies of these, as well as polecats, will be welcomed. The inclusive nature of this survey means that people need not worry about distinguishing between the different forms before collecting bodies. As with the previous survey in the 1990s we hope to involve the National Museums of Scotland in curating the polecat material collected during the survey.

There is no need to pre-register to take part in the survey. Anyone willing to help is invited to contact the VWT for instructions when they have found a dead polecat, feral ferret or polecat-ferret hybrid during the survey period. Bodies should be kept cool (ideally deep-frozen) until they can be collected or posted to the VWT. Important details to record with each body are the name of the recorder, the record date, six figure grid reference and apparent cause of death. An alternative is to take clear photographs of both the entire dorsal and ventral views of the specimen and post or email them to the VWT.

To receive a free leaflet on the polecat and one on how to tell polecats and ferrets apart, send a stamped addressed A5 envelope to the VWT.

Contact details:

The Vincent Wildlife Trust, 3&4 Bronsil Courtyard, Eastnor, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1EP; Tel. 01531 636441; Fax. 01531 636442; email vwt@vwt.org.uk ; Website www.vwt.org.uk 

PS We should be very glad to receive duplicates of these records at Worcestershire Biological Records Centre as part of our on-going Worcestershire Mammals Atlas project. Any records welcome especially with a grid reference.


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