Pine martens reintroduced to England

Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Pine martens have been reintroduced to England for the first time following near extinction. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has led this first formal reintroduction of a charismatic species, once a familiar feature of English woodlands – but which had been reduced to a population of fewer than 20.

18 pine martens have now been reintroduced into the Forest of Dean – the aim is to establish a source population to support the recovery of this mammal. The last official recording of a pine marten in the Forest of Dean was 1860 and the species is believed to have been absent from the area since then.

From the same family as otters and weasels, pine martens were once common among British wildlife. Similar in size to a domestic cat, with slim bodies, brown fur and a distinctive cream ‘bib’ on their throats, they have long, bushy tails and prominent rounded ears.

Extensive hunting, however, together with the loss of the woodlands pine martens once called home, resulted in near extinction in England. Historically, they were pushed to the more remote parts of the UK, becoming Britain's second-rarest native carnivore. Eventually, their only remaining stronghold was in the north-west Highlands of Scotland.

Between August and September this year, 18 pine martens were moved from Scotland to Gloucestershire, fitted with tracking collars and released into the Forest.

Under the watchful eye of Dr. Catherine McNicol, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Project Manager, the pine martens’ activity will be closely monitored.

“Pine martens are elusive and shy animals, with their presence often only indicated by scats in the middle of forestry tracks. They only give birth to a few kits each year if breeding is even successful, so the rate of marten population recovery in the UK is low. It is hoped that their protection, alongside these reintroductions, will give them the boost they need to become resilient and thrive” comments Dr. McNicol.

We are in a biodiversity emergency and conserving our remaining wildlife is not enough, we must also take action to support nature’s recovery.
Dr Gareth Parry
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

Dr Gareth Parry, Director of Conservation at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, added:

“We are in a biodiversity emergency and conserving our remaining wildlife is not enough, we must also take action to support nature’s recovery. We’re working with partners to establish a Nature Recovery Network across the county and bringing back native species, such as pine marten, which play a vital role in ecosystem functioning, is an important part of this work.”

The hope is that over the next two years, more pine martens will be released into the Forest and that a population will establish there. This population will then spread and link up with the recently reintroduced Welsh pine martens, creating a new stronghold for the species and ensuring its survival.

Members of the public are unlikely to spot these solitary mammals, which have exclusive territories and go out of the way to avoid each other, and people.

“We are delighted be involved with the return of the pine marten, a charming, but highly elusive mammal that was once widespread throughout England” said Rebecca Wilson, Forestry England’s Planning and Environment Manager in West England.

She added: “As native omnivores, pine martens play a vital role in the delicate balance of woodland ecosystems. Living at low densities in the landscape, they forage on fruit, fungi and a range of prey including the grey squirrel, a non-native species which is having a detrimental impact on broadleaf woodland throughout England.

“We are looking forward to working with volunteers, local communities and partner organisations to monitor how the pine martens are moving throughout the Forest of Dean and the wider landscape.”

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, together with Forestry England, Vincent Wildlife Trust and Forest Research have just reached this major milestone with the support of Forest Holidays, and the Woodland Trust.

Further information on the project can be found at www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk