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I saw a golden brown animal with whitish belly in our garden today in East Kilbride, about 6 inches long. Would it be a stoat or a weasel?

Sent in by David Mackay, East Kilbride

Both of the animals you mention here belong to the family called Mustelids. They live where they can obtain cover and prey, ranging from coastal dunes and grassland to woodland and scrub.

They are very similar in appearance, essentially being reddish-brown above and white below. Weasels are the smaller of the two and have all brown tails. Stoats, on the other hand, have a clear black tip to their proportionately longer tail. Also, the dividing line between upper and lower body colour is straight on a stoat, but irregular on a weasel

Getting a good view of the tail is the key to identification, so, unfortunately, in this case it isn't possible to be sure which of the two you saw!

In contrast to birds, monitoring of mammal populations in the UK is generally less well developed, and trends and populations are much more poorly known.
The records used indicate that following an increase from 1961 to the mid 1970s, the UK stoat population declined to some degree.

The dramatic decline in weasel numbers, down to a quarter of 1960 levels, more likely reflects a genuine trend and may be associated with reductions in the extent of rough grassland - an important habitat for voles, a favourite prey weasel species.

Among the UK’s predatory mammals, foxes, badgers, polecats, pine martens, and non-native American mink and grey squirrels have all increased, whilst weasel numbers may have declined. The trend in stoat numbers is less clear.

It is perhaps equally possible to sight wild or feral polecats within the UK. These animals are becoming increasingly common and widespread, spreading away from their western strongholds. There is also the possibility of seeing a polecat ferret which is difficult to separate from true polecat, except by experts. These animals sometimes escape from their owners during ferreting for rabbits and can happily live in the wild.

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