The pine marten is one of the rarest native mammals in Great Britain. It was once found across the UK but during the 18th and 19th centuries its numbers declined rapidly. This was mainly due to deforestation and game shooting; up until Victorian times the pine marten was also hunted for its beautiful fur. Today, pine martens and their dens are offered full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Environmental Protection Act. 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, but now things are looking up for the pine marten. Changes to the management of Scottish landscapes over the past few decades have created conditions that have allowed the pine marten to thrive. They are now in relatively high densities in the Highlands, though still relatively rare in Southern Scotland. Katy Anderson, Habitats Manager of Cowal & Trossachs Forestry Commission says: “Pine martens have made a comeback over the past 12 to 15 years. Prior to that there weren’t many in this area due to a long history of persecution by gamekeepers. Since game-keeping decreased and forest areas have increased, pine martens have recolonised the Trossachs and areas across Scotland.”
The feasibility study was a collaboration between Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, Forestry England, and the Vincent Wildlife Trust. Forest Holidays is the first key sponsor of the project and is keen to contribute to the survival of this iconic woodland species. The feasibility study assessed whether there was suitable habitat for pine martens in the forest and whether a sustainable population could exist. It also investigated the impact pine martens may have on the local ecology of the area; the reintroduction of a native predator can have extremely positive effects on an ecosystem, helping re-establish balance. In particular, pine martens are potentially the perfect ally in the fight to reduce grey squirrel populations, which damage trees and threaten red squirrels.
All native species within the forest evolved alongside pine martens, however, it was important to thoroughly assess their potential impacts on rare and protected species of conservation concern. Local communities were also fully consulted about living alongside pine martens. This exciting feasibility study took two years to complete and as a result, 18 pine martens have successfully been reintroduced into the Forest of Dean. They have been fitted with tracking collars so that their activity can be closely monitored, our Forest Ranger, Gerry has been volunteering for the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust to help with the radio tracking. There is hope that over the next two years more pine martens will be released into the Forest of Dean and that a population will establish there, so we look forward to providing more updates in the near future.