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THE LIVING WORLD
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Sunday 06:35-07:00
The Living World is a gentle weekend natural history programme, presented by Lionel Kelleway, which aims to broadcast the best, most intimate encounters with British wildlife.
nhuradio@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 25min
Listen to 9 March
PRESENTER
LIONEL KELLEWAY
Lionel Kelleway
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Sunday 9 March 2003
Mount Grace Priory
Stoat expert, Robbie MacDonald and the custodian of Mount Grace Priory, Becky Wright with Lionel Kelleway 

Stoats

Along with the 40-thousand annual visitors to the 14th century Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire are some rather more elusive guests stoats. Visitors to the Carthusian monastery, founded in 1398, are often delighted by the sight of these small predators, and at the right time of year, a litter of kits.

Lionel Kelleway is used to trying to spot elusive mammals, and with the help of English Heritage custodian Becky Wright, he’s taken around the stoats’ favourite dens and hunting spots. He also asks stoat researcher, Robbie McDonald, from the Game Conservancy Trust, whether it’s stoatally obvious how to tell a stoat from a weasel.

The stoats love the medieval drainage system under the priory, which offers them a way of sneaking up on a rabbit for dinner. Rabbits are their main prey, and there is an abundance of them at the monastery. After emptying a rabbit nest, stoats will then take over their home and use it as a den.

Stoats also have a most peculiar mating system. Newborn female stoats are mated by adult males in the early summer while they’re still in the nest blind, deaf and helpless. Then implantation is delayed for up to ten months, and the females give birth the following spring when prey is abundant.

When rabbits are scarce, stoats are also known to attack nesting birds, which has made them unpopular with gamekeepers. A study is underway at the Game Conservancy Trust to see just how much impact stoats have on the numbers of game birds like black grouse.

Lionel keeps a lookout for the elusive animals as he discovers more about their fascinating lives, and might, just might, see the flash of a black-tipped tail disappearing behind a distant priory wall.
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