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Pine Marten conservation

The conservation effort

What is being done to ensure the survival of this woodland species?

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. They are virtually extinct in England and Wales, with their last remaining UK stronghold in Scotland. 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.”

Changes in forest management

Pine martens helped by the restructuring of forests

Pine marten numbers have been helped by the way that forests have been restructured over the past 30 years. The removal of conifers (a single crop species) and their replacement with more diverse native species suits the pine martens’ preference for mixed woodlands. When undertaking forest operations, the Forestry Commission is careful to survey for den sites, particularly in the breeding season and they have also provided boxes for breeding, safe from foxes, one of the pine marten’s main predators. The young are born in April and are very dependent on their mothers so it’s important that they are not disturbed.

Pine martens in England and Wales

Conservationists lend a helping hand

Pine martens could easily find suitable habitats in England and Wales but the current tiny populations are thought to be too small to survive on their own and it will be many years before the Scottish population expands to link with them. Conservationists are lending a helping hand and have already started a programme to help pine marten populations recover. At Forest Holidays, we are supporting investigations into the feasibility of re-establishing a population in the Forest of Dean. This ‘translocation’ as conservationists call it, along with successful reinforcement of Pine Marten populations in other previously occupied areas of England and Wales, will be a major step towards improving their conservation status. Andrew Stringer, Pine Marten Project Manager for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust says: “Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust fully applaud Forest Holidays in their support for Pine Marten conservation and their commitment to promoting the importance of native wildlife in the UK. We look forward to working with them as we explore the feasibility of translocating pine martens to the Forest of Dean.”

The feasibility study

Assessing whether there is suitable habitat for pine martens

The feasibility study is a collaboration between Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission, 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 will assess whether there is suitable habitat for pine martens in the forest and whether a sustainable population can exist. It will also investigate 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 is important to thoroughly assess their potential impacts on rare and protected species of conservation concern. The project will also fully consult with local communities about living alongside pine martens. There are opportunities, such as the chance to see such a charismatic mammal on your bird feeder. However there are also potential costs, such as whether fox-proof chicken enclosures will need to be further improved against pine martens. This exciting feasibility study will take two years to complete and we will keep you up to date on all the developments. Read more about the work Forest Holidays does to support local communities here.