Pine Marten rediscovered in England!
Pine martens confirmed in Northumberland
First proof that Pine martens are still alive in England. Credit Colin Smith
June 2010. Conservationists are ecstatic at the news that England's rarest mammal, the pine marten, has been found in the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland. Along with Cumbria, Durham, Yorkshire and the Peak District, Northumberland is considered the most suitable habitat for pine martens, and may well already host small populations.
The finding of a pine marten scat (dropping) confirms the long-held view of mammal experts that this attractive tree-dwelling animal does exist in England, but in such low numbers that very few people ever see one.
The scat, from a female pine marten, was found on a den (nest) box and suggests the exciting possibility that the box has been used to raise young. Although pine martens have taken readily to boxes in Scotland, this is the first evidence of them using one anywhere in England.
The scat was sent to The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) as part of the VWT's ongoing pine marten research project ‘Prospects for Pine Martens'. In turn the VWT sent the scat to experts at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, where scientists have DNA tested almost 1000 scats on behalf of the VWT. "Since the mid 90s, The Vincent Wildlife Trust has received more than 50 reported sightings of pine martens in Northumberland so we have always believed that they were there, but now we have the DNA evidence to back this up. It's a great day for pine marten conservation" said Neil Jordan, Pine Marten Project Manager with The Vincent Wildlife Trust.
First proof for 16 years
This is the first unequivocal evidence for 16 years in Northumberland and is just reward for all the many individuals who have given up so much of their time in the search for this elusive animal. The scat was found by Kevin O'Hara of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust: "This is the holy grail for me and many others. Having searched for pine martens for years, and had many tantalising reports for several years, to finally confirm the presence of pine marten in Northumberland is monumental." The finding would not have been possible without the help of funding from the SITA Trust and Dave Robson of Tilhill Forestry.
Great North Pine Marten Pursuit'
Finding this evidence is particularly exciting as the VWT are planning a 15-day ‘Great North Pine Marten Pursuit' - a coast to coast search for evidence of pine martens across the northern ‘hot spots' in Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire. This event, to be held in August, will involve as many as 200 volunteers and will hopefully find yet more evidence of the pine marten's survival in northern England.
VWT staff will set up remote camera stations, use scent and sound lures, search for pine marten droppings and erect and survey den boxes in woodland sites, all with the help of teams of volunteers.
The pursuit, involving a mix of hiking and 4x4 travel, will start in Cumbria and then pass through sites in Northumberland, then down through Durham and across the North York Moors.
More about The Vincent Wildlife Trust
The pine marten (Martes martes) had become extinct throughout much of Britain by the early part of the 20th century. Small populations survived in Wales and the Marches and in areas of northern England, but relatively strong populations were still to be found only in some parts of the Scottish Highlands where persecution pressures were less.
Recent studies show that the pine marten in Scotland appears to be making a good recovery. South of the Scottish border the situation appears to be different and the recovery taking place in Scotland has not yet occurred in those parts of England and Wales where pine martens survived.
Since the mid-1990s The Vincent Wildlife Trust has been gathering and evaluating reported sightings of pine martens from England and Wales. Analysis of data suggests that pine martens are still present in broadly the same parts of England and Wales from which they were recorded in earlier decades, including Lakeland, Northumbria and the North York Moors in England.
However, the animals are apparently rare and elusive, and evidence of their presence is very hard to find. What is needed is more evidence of their whereabouts and more DNA samples to analyse the origins of those animals still surviving amongst the hills and dales of northern England. More evidence will help in the long-term conservation plans for the pine marten.
The surveys and studies that have so far been conducted pose a number of important questions, including what is the status and distribution of the pine marten in England and Wales and why has its recovery not yet occurred outside Scotland?
The VWT is engaged in long-term studies to address these and other questions.
Pine marten facts
- A native mammal of Britain and Ireland, the pine marten (Martes martes) is a medium-sized mustelid (or member of the weasel family) and is related to the mink, polecat, otter, badger, stoat and weasel. Adult pine martens are similar in size to a small/medium-sized domestic cat, with males about a third larger than the females.
- The pine marten has a slim body and a long tail that is thick and bushy in its winter coat. Rich brown fur contrasts with a creamy-yellow 'bib' on the throat and chest, and with the pale fur within the prominent, rounded ears (the bib varies in size and in some individuals is almost absent).
- The pine marten probably arrived in Britain and Ireland soon after the end of the last glaciation, about 9,500 years ago. An animal of woodland, it would have been most numerous when Britain and Ireland had greater tree cover. It has been suggested that 6,500 years ago, pine martens were the second most common carnivore in Britain!
- Pine martens are solitary for most of the year, and each adult occupies a home range that varies from 20 to 3000+ hectares depending on the quality of the habitat.
Pine marten. Credit Bill Cuthbert