Native mammal returns to Cornwall

With the conservation news full of stories about native mammals, such as the benefits and risks of releasing European Beavers (Castor fiber) and the controversial cull of European Badger (Meles meles) you might not have noticed an amazing conservation success. 

The European Polecat (Mustela putorius) is a native British mammal that has been regarded as locally extinct in Cornwall since the 1960’s.  However, separate projects carried out by Cornwall Mammal Group and the Vincent Wildlife Trust has shown that Polecats can now once again be regarded as a Cornish native. 

Polecats are a member of the weasel family or the mustelids and the family includes some of the most charismatic and controversial carnivores in Britain, including the Otter (Lutra lutra), Pine marten (Martes martes), Polecat, American Mink (Neovison vison), Stoat (Mustela ermine) and Weasel (Mustela nivalis).

Visual identification of ‘true’ Polecats is almost impossible as polecats can mate with their domestic cousins, Ferrets (Mustela furo) to produce offspring that are fertile.  This means that there are now hybrids between Polecats and Ferrets, imaginatively called Polecat-ferrets (Mustela putorius x Mustela putorius furo).  However, in 2015 the Vincent Wildlife Trust carried out the National Polecat Survey and have shown that for the first time in many years, ‘true’ Polecats have been recorded in Cornwall. 

Cornwall Mammal Group (CMG) has also been working with local and national experts to visually identify road-killed Polecats.  CMG have worked with Cardiff University to undertake genetic analysis of 26 samples and five of these samples have now been confirmed as ‘true’ polecats.  Dave Groves of Cornwall Mammal Group said, “It is clear that there is a significant population of Polecats and Polecat-ferrets in Cornwall, certainly in the east and possibly extending as far west as Newquay.   We are excited to be able to say that Polecats are, once again, a Cornish native”.

The Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS) works to collect and collate biological records for all species in the county.  If you have seen a Polecat (or anything else!) you can help us determine their distribution patterns and population densities by submitting a wildlife record on our website, Online wildlife Recording for Kernow & Scilly.  All you need to tell us is:

  • What you saw – the species nameERCCIS
  • Where you saw it – the site name and grid reference
  • When you saw it – the exact date that the record was taken
  • Who you are – your name and contact details

The Cornwall Mammal Group supports the recording and analysis of all mammals and more information can be found at www.cornwallmammalgroup.org.uk

The National Survey of Polecats has been completed by The Vincent Wildlife Trust and will be published in March 2016.  More information can be found at www.vwt.org.uk/.