Who looks after Suffolk's poorly stoats, weasels and polecats? EADT wildlife photographer, John Boyle, finds out...

It’s 10am in the morning as I meet Luke at his mid Suffolk home and considering that he has been feeding his new baby every couple of hours through the night he is looking surprisingly alert and relaxed.

The baby in question is a female weasel kit called Fergal, just 5-7 days old and with her eyes still firmly closed.

Feeding FergalFeeding Fergal (Image: John Boyle)
In his “spare time” Luke runs Norfolk and Suffolk Stoat and Weasel Rescue (NSSWR) from his house and is currently also caring for two stoats.

I ask him how he ended up being the primary carer for injured and orphaned mustelids in the county.

“It all started with Bramble four years ago,” he tells me.

“I was out walking one day when I came across this young stoat clearly in distress and covered in ticks. So, I took her home and made some urgent calls to local wildlife rescue centres to get advice.”

It all started when Luke spotted an injured stoat out walkingIt all started when Luke spotted an injured stoat out walking (Image: John Boyle)
Luke was directed to Andrew Gray of Mustelid Rescue UK and Yorkshire based artist and pioneering wildlife film maker Robert Fuller.

The pair provided invaluable advice and Bramble made a full recovery and was eventually released back into the wild.

Weasels are the smallest members of the Mustelid family and when I set eyes on Luke’s tiny patient, named Fergal, I am actually shocked at how small she is.

No longer than my middle finger and with a head the size of my fingernail I’m wishing I’d brought a macro lens to photograph the tiny orphan.

Pan, the stoatPan, the stoat (Image: John Boyle)
A typical admission, whether it be weasel, stoat or polecat, usually arrives totally dehydrated and Luke’s first task is to administer a milk substitute, usually used to feed kittens, via a syringe.

This formula cannot totally duplicate the mother’s milk so the baby must be weaned off this drink as soon as it is fully hydrated, with the milk gradually being substituted for raw meat.
Next, I meet and photograph Pan, a two and a half weeks old male stoat delivered to Luke by a woman from Lincolnshire, appropriately in a saucepan.

I’m always heartened by the lengths individuals will go to in order to help an animal in distress.

Pan was found in the woman’s garden and after a call to NSSWR she made the long journey to mid Suffolk to get the baby stoat the best possible care.

A rescued polecatA rescued polecat (Image: NSSWR)

To date every animal that Luke has had in his care has survived and been returned to the wild, an astonishing achievement considering how helpless and vulnerable many of his charges are.

Reintroduction to the countryside is by a gradual process known as “soft release” with the recovered mustelids being housed in large pens in quiet and secure locations and provided with food until they can fend for themselves.

A polecat being nursed back to healthA polecat being nursed back to health (Image: NSSWR)
Weasels and stoats are incredible escape artists and can get through the smallest of holes

It is claimed that an adult weasel can pass through a wedding ring, so Luke’s patients must be kept in secure but well-ventilated containers.

The youngsters have poor body temperature regulation, so they are given a single cloth or towel as bedding and a heat mat is placed under one end of their housing.

Stoats and weasels are not uncommon in the countryside and polecats are making a comeback in Suffolk after decades of absence but most of us will still rarely spot one in the wild.

A soft release penA soft release pen (Image: NSSWR)
However, if you see a very young stoat or weasel on its own then there is probably something wrong and it will need to be cared for.

Whilst the kits are still young the mothers will often carry their offspring from nest to nest and can sometimes drop their youngsters.

Older kits will start following their mother and may get separated from her.

Usually, these youngsters will not be old enough to fend for themselves and will need taking in.

Please search the area to see if there are any more kits in need of rescue before contacting Luke or Andrew as soon as possible.

For Norfolk and Suffolk Stoat and Weasel Rescue, call 07896 797697 

For Mustelid Rescue UK, call 07903965281 

Remember, mustelids are voracious predators with sharp teeth so an injured adult should not be picked up with bare hands!