FORGET the Met Office - stoats at a 600-year-old monastery in the region are a safe bet for an accurate weather forecast.

Experts say a colony of stoats, which has set up home at Mount Grace Priory, near Osmotherley, in North Yorkshire, can predict whether or not the North will have a white Christmas.

English Heritage, which runs the priory, says an adult male stoat’s fur turning white ahead of schedule is an indicator of a tough winter.

Normally brown on top and white underneath, stoats may turn completely white during the colder months to improve their camouflage against predators.

Becky Wright, of English Heritage, who is also a member of the Mammal Society, said: "Some of the stoats went white after the last New Year and stayed that way for much longer than we’d expected.

"Then we had a snowy Easter, showing that they have a sixth sense about these things.

"On that basis, the stoats could be offering a sign that we may need to wrap up warm for quite a few more months.

"Perhaps they know a white Christmas is on the cards."

The colour change is controlled by a gland in the animal which reacts to temperature and day length.

Although the head and body may go white, the tip of the tail remains black.

Twelve years ago the priory’s stoats became famous when they starred in a David Attenborough wildlife documentary.

Mount Grace Priory is off the A19 and open 10am to 4pm daily from Thursday to Sunday, inclusive.

Admission is £3.90 for adults, £3.10 for concessions and £2 for children.

For more information, call 01609-883494 or visit