Did anyone (in the UK) catch last night’s The One Show on the BBC? If so, you would’ve seen Lizzie Croose from the Vincent Wildlife Trust explaining the ins and outs of pine marten conservation in England and Wales. For those of you who missed it, here’s Lizzie’s guest blog for ARKive explaining all…
The whereabouts of pine martens in England and Wales is one of the greatest mysteries facing UK mammalogists today. The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) has been collecting information on these agile cat-sized carnivores for more than 15 years, and although we are not quite ‘in the dark’ about the status of pine martens south of the Scottish border, there is certainly much more light that can be shed on these elusive mustelids.
The presence of pine martens is confirmed by the occasional scat sample, carcass or blurry photograph that emerges every couple of years, but other than this, we know very little about the distribution and ecology of these secretive creatures. Whilst pine martens are now faring very well in Scotland and Ireland and expanding in number and range, the situation in England and Wales is less clear.
What we do know is that this charismatic mammal is now the rarest carnivore in England and Wales, as a result of years of persecution and woodland clearance. Today, small populations survive in the most remote corners of the country, to where they retreated over 100 years ago, such as Northumberland, the Lake District, North Yorkshire, the Peak District, Snowdonia and parts of mid and west Wales. But even in these ‘hot spots’, pine martens are not easy to spot. They are largely nocturnal, inhabit dense woodlands, live at low densities and can roam vast territories of up to 82km2.
So how do we make contact with such an elusive animal? The Vincent Wildlife Trust has been using an array of techniques to try and track down pine martens, including scat surveys, baited hair-collection tubes, scent lures and remote-sensor camera traps. Nevertheless, often our detection efforts are in vain and irrefutable DNA evidence of martens is very hard to come by. As a result, sightings reported by members of the public and naturalists make up the majority of the body of evidence that we have and provide a valuable insight into the secret lives of pine martens.
The pine marten is listed as a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species which means that assisting it to recover and prosper in England and Wales is a conservation priority. A key factor which is limiting the species recovery is probably a lack of suitable arboreal – or above ground – den sites, which provide pine martens with a safe place to raise their young and shelter from the elements, away from foxes and other predators.
Preferentially, martens will den in large tree cavities, usually prevalent in ancient woodland, but today’s relatively young woodland does not provide many above-ground den sites. However, the VWT have come up with a cosy solution: artificial den boxes. Martens take readily to boxes in parts of Scotland where they have successfully raised kits in them, making den boxes a very useful conservation tool. However, boxes can only be a temporary solution and promoting the widespread retention of old trees and encouraging the development of natural cavities is a more sustainable long-term solution.
We hope that in time, habitat and environmental conditions will improve in order to support the recovery of the pine marten south of the Scottish border, but until then, we may have to continue travelling to Scotland in order to get a glimpse of this enigmatic animal.
For more information on the pine marten or to report a sighting in England or Wales, please visit www.pinemarten.info.
Visit ARKive’s great collection of pine marten photos and videos.
Written by Lizzie Croose, Administration and Field Assistant, Vincent Wildlife Trust.
Article contributed by Dr Neil Jordan, Pine Marten Project Manager, Vincent Wildlife Trust