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Polecats are dark brown in colour with a pale underbelly and brown 'bandit mask' on their faces. They are weasel-like mammals that prefer to be alone and usually come out at night.

Polecats leave small footprints on wet and snowy surfaces near canals

Polecats are related to otters and were trapped to near-extermination by gamekeepers and fur trappers in the early 1900s. As a result, they are now listed on Schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, meaning that they are protected from illegal trapping and persecution. Thanks to this protection, the number of polecats has started to increase, especially in Wales and southern and central areas of England.

Polecats are notoriously hard to track, as they do not leave many distinctive signs and often get confused with minks or ferrets. They grow between 30cm-40cm in the body. They feed mainly on rabbits, but there is a plentiful supply of other prey available in the range of habitats along the waterways, including frogs and toads.

Although polecats can make their own dens, they tend to use existing sites such as rabbit burrows and log piles. Polecats are often found in woodlands and hedgerows. The waterways offer a huge variety of well-protected habitats and safe passage through the landscape for this elusive creature.

Family nature guide 2019

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Identify footprints and read fascinating facts about the creatures who make their homes along our canals and rivers

Last Edited: 16 November 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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