Cornish Biodiversity Network  -  Supporting Wildlife Recording

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Cornish Red Data (2009)

The descriptive text, below the map, is from the Cornish Red Data Book (2009). The map on this web page depicts the organisms distribution and shows the records made pre-2000 and those made since.

Mustela putorius - Polecat

Range & Status

Found in central and western Europe including Corsica and Sicily (Macdonald & Barrett, 1993). Overlaps with and replaced by Steppe Polecat in eastern Europe and despite earlier claims, does not appear to occur in Africa (Harris & Yalden, 2008). Native in Britain, locally common and increasing (Harris et al ., 1995); by the 1990s the species had expanded from its mid-Wales stronghold to re-colonise the whole of mainland Wales and at least seven English border counties. By 1993 it had reached Derbyshire and Oxfordshire (Birks, 1993), and there are now good records of Polecat, probably due to natural spread, as far east as Northampton and Oxford (Birks, 1995/96). Current distribution extends as far east as the Peak District and the Home Counties (Harris & Yalden, 2008). Maverick re-introductions, in addition, have created isolated populations in north-east Scotland and Cumbria (Birks, 1993) with further reintroductions on the Dorset/Hampshire border and in Hertfordshire. The most recent VWT Polecat distribution survey (2004 - 2006), shows that little has changed since the first edition of the Red Data Book for Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (Spalding (Ed.), 1997c), was published, in respect of Cornish interests (Dr. J.D.S. Birks, pers. comm., 2008). The nearest ones to Cornwall are now re-established in north-east Somerset, Wiltshire and east Dorset. It could be suggested, however, that Polecat is now poised to re-colonise the south-west Peninsula, provided conditions remain favourable. Harris et al . (1995) roughly estimated a total pre-breeding population of 15,000 for Britain.

Regional Distribution

Extinct, or nearly so, in Cornwall by about 1920. The rather academic issue of the extinction date is clouded by the possibility of past confusion with escaped polecat-marked ferrets.

Habitat & Ecology

A variety of habitats are used including river valleys, woodland, forest plantations, marginal land, marsh, sea cliffs and dunes. Polecats are less common on high ground. They are often associated with farm buildings, particularly during the winter months, where they prey on rats. Rabbit is an important prey item, their diet mainly involving vertebrate prey (Corbet & Harris, 1996). Ecologically the Polecat is similar to the introduced American Mink, but much less aquatic.


Polecat is particularly vulnerable to being killed on Britain' s roads (Birks, 1993). Persecution by gamekeepers and rabbit trappers was the cause of its extinction from most of its British range, but this is now far less intensive (Morris, 1993). Other threats include secondary rodenticide poisoning (Birks, 1995/96) and hybridisation with escaped ferrets (Morris, 1993). The crashes of rabbit populations, due to various contagious diseases, may be a problem.


Public relations work, together with various monitoring and research efforts, is currently being carried out by the Vincent Wildlife Trust Polecat Project (Birks, 1993). The Polecat is partially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, Schedule 6; and Schedule 3 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats & c.) Regulations 1994 (animals which may not be killed or taken in certain ways). It may not be trapped without a licence. Listed (long list) as a globally threatened/declining species (BSGR, 1995). Included in the Biodiversity Action Plan list for Cornwall.


I.J. Bennallick, S. Board, C.N. French, P.A. Gainey, C. Neil, R. Parslow, A. Spalding and P.E. Tompsett. eds. 2009. Red Data Book for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. 2nd Edition.Croceago Press.

The Cornish Red Data Book Project was led by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Federation for Biological Recorders (CISFBR). The full text and species accounts (minus the maps) are available on the CISFBR website.

Cornish Biodiversity Network. 2017.