Country diary: The murderous wails of polecats in high summer

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Colin Varndell/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Colin Varndell/Alamy

Nothing seems to be sleeping in the heat. Our neighbour’s bedroom TV plays a loop of old films, so clipped, forthright phrases drift into the night. Sparrows flutter uncomfortably in the eaves between us. Even the lullaby drone of the field-away combine harvester isn’t soothing. Flints lie on our fields like broken crockery, and there have already been combine-sparked flint fires. We are all a bit jittery.

A sudden hysterical yikkering outside makes me sit up. The polecats are back! I go first to the window and then outside, grabbing the big lamp on my way, keeping it switched off. In high summer, jill polecats and their kits can be vocal for several nights, play-hunt-fighting in the arable.

The barley shifts and crackles up to the garden gate like a dry, restless sea. I stand and watch. There are more close, loud, murderous wails, yips and squabbling. These whirling dervishes must be just feet away. Subconsciously, I curl my toes in and tuck my nightdress between my knees.

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The sound becomes a crescendo. In a moment of doubt, I switch on the lamp – perhaps it is cats after all, or fox cubs – and there is a face. The briefest snapshot: bright eyes in a Lone Ranger bandit mask, fierce, ferrety features, a teddy bear’s ears, and nose. It vanishes after the ripple of barley ahead, flowing its luxuriant, snatched-back stole of black-and-cream sable behind it. I hear myself gasp.

The former gamekeeper sometimes called them by their old names: “fitch” or “foulmart”. They have returned to southern England from a wild population in Wales, on their own terms, coming back to reclaim territory and their own right to roam. They are on the edge of my hearing when the combine reaches a gap in the hedge, raises its wide header on the turn with a roar and a flash of headlights, illuminating a plume of chalk dust like smoke.

I think of the glimpse of sable fur, a smouldering coat of fury, ash and white-hot embers. A thrilling fire starter of an animal. From behind me, canned laughter peals from next door’s upstairs window.

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