The polecat population has been recovering for almost a century, after heavy persecution by gamekeepers. Polecats have long bodies and short legs and their fur is two-toned; each hair is creamy-yellow at the base and black at its tip, giving an overall dark brown appearance. They have characteristic white markings on the end of their snout and the tips of their ears. They are mostly active at night and keep to the shelter of forests. They hunt mainly on the ground, relying on hearing and smell, and are poor climbers. Dens may make use of rabbit warrens or badger setts, or spaces under tree roots, and are lined with leaves and grass. When the polecat is frightened or injured, it emits a foul smell from anal glands in an attempt to deter its predators. This gives it its Latin name ‘putorius’, which means ‘foul smelling musk-bearer’.

Head-body length: 30 – 45cm
Tail length: 12 – 14cm
Weight: 600 – 900g
Lifespan: Up to 5 years


Mating occurs from March to April and a litter of 5 – 10 kits is born from May to July. Week-old kits have a thin covering of silky, white fur that is replaced with a brown-greyish coat at 3 – 4 weeks. Weaning begins at three weeks and the young are independent by 2 – 3 months old.


Rodents, rabbits, frogs and toads, and small mammals. Birds’ eggs, fish, invertebrates and carrion are also sometimes eaten.


Various habitats including woodland, coastal dunes, river valleys and often around farmland.


Sometimes killed by dogs and possibly by foxes and birds of prey.


Road traffic accidents; trapping; and shooting.

Status & conservation

Native and locally common.

Population size & distribution

UK population 38,500 (fewer than 500 in Scotland). There are indications that their distribution increased across England between 1992 and 2007 but there is no change in the population over the last 10 years. In England, populations are restricted to central and southwest areas, and they are absent from Ireland.

Did you know?

Polecats seize their prey with their canines, killing it with a bite to the neck, which is perfected with practice. They can kill prey as large as a goose or hare.

Let's keep in touch...

We'd love to tell you about our conservation work through our regular newsletter Wildlife World, and also how you can save endangered species through volunteering, taking action or donating. You must be 18 or over. The information that you provide will be held by People’s Trust for Endangered Species. For information on how PTES processes personal data, please see our privacy policy.

People's Trust For Endangered Species

People's Trust for Endangered Species, 3 Cloisters House, 8 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4BG

Registered Charity Number: 274206 • Site Design: Mike Leach Creative at Waters • Branding: Be Colourful

Copyright PTES 2023

- Enter Your Location -
- or -