Other Mammal Species – Carnivores

Seven species of carnivore occur in Dorset: red fox, badger, otter, stoat, weasel, polecat and american mink, and feral ferrets have also been recorded. In addition there have been at least nine confirmed reports of pine marten across the border in the New Forest in Hampshire and it is not inconceivable that we could expect them to spread at some stage to the forestry plantations in the east of the county. Please remember that records of dead animals help build up a picture of a species’ distribution so even records of road casualties are worth reporting.

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes

One of Britain’s best known and for many well-loved mammals but sadly still heavily persecuted. Occurs throughout mainland Britain but absent from many offshore islands.

mammal-fox
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Still widespread in most of Dorset and even easily seen at night in urban conurbations such as Bournemouth and Poole. In more rural areas best seen at dawn and dusk and particularly visible in early May when the cubs emerge from dens. A reliable site with relatively tame individuals is the track down to the National Trust hide at Middlebeare on the west side of Poole harbour.

Badger Meles meles

Another of Britain’s most familiar mammals although sadly more often seen as a road casualty than alive and unfortunately still subject to a planned, but ill-conceived cull, which will extend into our area. Widespread in Britain although absent at higher altitudes, normally 500m or more above sea level. More information is available on our dedicated badger pages.

mammal-badger
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Widespread although as mentioned above more often encountered as a road casualty unless you make specific effort to look for them at dusk. Best seen by sitting quietly downwind of setts at dusk during the summer months although in many areas of the county including urban areas badgers visit gardens and can be attracted by peanuts etc.

Otter Lutra lutra

Another of our most popular mammals. Widespread throughout Britain although numbers vary widely from area to area. Otters disappeared from large areas of England during the 1960s and 1970s which was thought to result from the widespread use of organochlorines and PCBs which resulted in the pollution of many waterways and the poisoning of otters’ prey. Following the ban of the use of organochlorines populations started to recover and by 2012 otters had returned to every English county and can now even be seen during the day along rivers in town centres. More information is available on our dedicated otter pages.

mammal-otter
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Now present on most of the county’s rivers although still rarely seen in most areas. However easily seen by the weir near the Morrison’s car park in the centre of Blandford Forum, and the population here although not continually present can be seen at any time of the day, often feeding unconcerned a few feet away from photographers. They have even been featured in several television programmes. Away from Blandford, otters are regularly seen on the Little Sea at Studland.

American Mink Mustela vison

Feral populations in Britain were established from escapes from fur farms and mink now occur throughout the country and on many offshore islands. Although a fascinating animal when seen well their spread has had disastrous consequences for water voles and many riparian bird species and consequently many people regard them with contempt. On the plus side there is evidence from some parts of the country that the recovery in otter populations has resulted in a downturn for mink populations. However although very different in size and appearance mink are often misidentified as otters and are consequently probably under-reported.

mammal-mink
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Occurs widely in Dorset although less widespread than otters.

Polecat Mustela putorius

Another recent success story. After decades of persecution in the late 19th and early 20th century the range of polecats had retracted with Wales being the one remaining stronghold. During the 1980s and 1990s the population began to recover and spread and now extends right across central England into East Anglia although at the eastern end of its range the exact extent of re-colonisation is confused as populations spreading east have come into contact with animals reintroduced into Hertfordshire. Additional reintroduction programmes have also occurred in Argyll, Perthshire, Cumbria and central southern England. Unfortunately the situation is complicated further by the existence of feral ferrets and hybrids and the exact range of pure-bred polecats is still unclear. For further information The Polecat Survey of Britain 2004-2006: A Report on the Polecat’s Distribution, Status and Conservation. Vincent Wildlife Trust is highly recommended.

mammal-polecat
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Scattered records throughout the county although most records in Dorset, and elsewhere relate to road casualties, particularly in September and October when young animals start ranging more widely. If you do find a road casualty a photograph, will help rule out the possibility of feral ferret and help confirm the record.

Stoat Mustela erminea

A familiar species although frequently persecuted by gamekeepers. Often confused with its smaller relative, the weasel, but stoats are noticeably larger with obvious black tips to the tail, and in some areas turn white in winter leading to its alterative name ermine. Widespread in Britain and although more commonly seen thought to be scarcer in England than weasels.

mammal-stoat
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Widespread. Best looked for driving, walking or cycling quiet country roads early in the morning or by staking out rabbit warrens particularly in spring when adults are hunting more frequently to feed hungry young. Like weasels can also be easier to see in autumn when crops are harvested and vegetation dies back. As with mink and weasels can often be attracted back into view by ‘squeaking’.

Weasel Mustela nivalis

Another species that occurs widely throughout Britain but seemingly less frequently seen than stoat.

mammal-weasel.jpg
Photo: Colin Varndell

Status in Dorset

Similar to stoat although the distribution map suggests that the population may be contracting with more records prior to the current atlas period than during the atlas period itself. In some areas often seen crossing roads with young in tow in spring. Frequently found in nest boxes in winter.

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