Recovery of Polecats in Britain

Other the last one hundred years the polecat Mustela putorius has been recovering its former range following a catastrophic decline in the nineteenth century. In this interdisciplinary project Katie Sainsbury is investigating the contemporary anthropogenic processes that may affect, or be affected by, polecat recovery.

One example anthropogenic process is the control of rodent infestations. Rodents, primarily rats Rattus norvegius, cause millions of pounds of damage each year and second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are the preferred method of control. Anticoagulant rodenticides work by inhibiting the blood clotting mechanism and cause death by haemorrhage in sufficient quantity. They also may cause a range of sublethal effects. As polecats eat rats they may be exposed secondarily by eating contaminated prey. In our project we analysed liver tissues from polecat carcasses to assess the current levels of secondary exposure. We also compared current levels of secondary exposure to historical levels.

This project is funded and supported by the Vincent Wildlife Trust, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, University of Exeter and the Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species. We also collaborate with National Museums Scotland.


Katie Sainsbury uses a radio tracker to locate polecats; by taking whisker samples, we can use forensic techniques to understand more about their diet and resource use.


Sainsbury, K. A., Shore, R. F., Schofield, H. , Croose, E. , Campbell, R. D. and McDonald, R. A. (2019). Recent history, current status, conservation and management of native mammalian carnivore species in Great Britain. Mammal Review. doi: 10.1111/mam.12150

Sainsbury KA, Shore RF, Schofield H, Croose E, Pereira MG, Sleep D, Kitchener AC, Hantke G, McDonald RA (2018) Long-term increase in secondary exposure to anticoagulant rodenticides in European polecats Mustela putorius in Great Britain. Environmental Pollution 236: 689-698.



Katie Sainsbury (University of Exeter)

Professor Robbie McDonald (University of Exeter)

Dr Henry Schofield (Vincent Wildlife Trust)

Professor Richard Shore (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology)





Featured Photo Credit: Anne Newton