He was asleep in a tangle of eight kits, when he felt himself snatched up and hauled out of the burrow. He protested with a snarly-squeak as his mother dragged him through the grass and scrub at the edge of the old warren, but she only shook him and hurried on towards the new den beneath the brambles on the hill. Her shake hurt more than the bumps and scrapes of being moved and she might give him a sharp nip afterwards for making a noise, so he let himself hang limp in her mouth.
When they reached their destination she pulled him down another old burrow to the den at the end. It was lined with grasses and rabbit fur, and he set about making himself comfortable. It would take some time to bring all his siblings across to their new home, so he might as well sleep. He was growing accustomed to these sudden moves from one home to another. This one was comfortable and smelled good. Eight kits soon made a fairly strong stink, and his mother knew that could be a real danger. Predators a-plenty would smell them out and come looking for an easy meal.
When there were four kits in the new den things began to get lively. They’d learned not to make a noise, but they couldn’t resist a wriggling, wrestling game. They were hard at it when something made him glance towards the burrow entrance. The light had dimmed for a moment, but not because of the bustling figure of his mother with kit number five. He let go of his sister’s leg and jumped round to face the approaching danger.
Something long and scaly was sliding towards them. It had a flickering tongue and dark patterns along its back. His hackles rose, and he screamed for help. His siblings gathered at his back and together they made themselves look as large and dangerous as possible while continuing to scream, but their efforts were of no use against a hungry adder and there was no way of escape.
Then at the last second the snake was wrenched away from them. Its tail had been seized and it was being hauled backwards. It was his mother! Hearing their screams, she had dropped the kit she was carrying and raced to the rescue.
All mothers are fierce in defence of their young, but this stoat was exceptional. She took a firm grip on the tail of the adder and fought it backwards away from her kits. She was frightened but their safety mattered more than her life, and once she’d got it out she knew she could move fast enough to escape. She chewed and bit as she pulled, and managed to create a nasty open wound in its tail which might discourage it from returning.
With one last heave it was out of the burrow, she leapt away to rescue the dropped kit, the adder, unable to see his attacker, slithered away to find an easier meal in some unprotected nest, and the stoat carried kit number five into the den.
But she didn’t stay, snatching up her oldest son she was on the move again. She might not be so lucky with that adder a second time.
A fictional story inspired by the stoat with eight kits on this year’s Springwatch. (I really don’t know if stoat kits can scream – so I apologise if I’ve got that wrong.)