Pine Marten (Martes martes)
What is a pine marten?
A pine marten is a small cat-sized mammal that is related to otters, stoats and weasels, with brown fur and a cream throat patch or ‘bib’. Females start to breed at two to three years of age and typically have small litters of no more than three kits that are born in April. They den in tree cavities, fallen root masses and amongst rocks, and the kits remain with their mother until they disperse to find their own territory in the autumn and early winter of the same year.
Where do they live and what do they eat?
Pine martens are good climbers and prefer woodland habitats with plenty of old trees as they seek out den sites in hollow tree cavities to raise their kits. They can also be found in more open landscapes such as forest edges and young conifer plantations, as long as there is some degree of tree cover.
They eat a wide variety of plant and animal-based foods depending on what is seasonally abundant. Small mammals such as voles form the major part of their diet, but they will also eat birds, insects, fruit such as blackberries, and carrion. Pine martens are more efficient at killing grey rather than red squirrels. Recent evidence suggests that where both squirrel species coexist with pine martens the red squirrel population will grow at the expense of the greys.
Has the British population changed over time?
Pine martens were once prevalent throughout mainland Britain, however by the late 19th century the species was restricted to the north west of Scotland with isolated populations in upland areas of northern England and Wales. Population declines in the 18th and 19th centuries were due to woodland clearance and to predator control associated with the increase in game shooting. During the 20th century Scottish pine martens have recovered well, but populations continue to decline in England and Wales prompting two recent reintroduction projects in mid-Wales and the Forest of Dean. The most recent British population estimate is 3,700.
Are they protected?
Pine martens are legally protected under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is therefore illegal to kill, injure or take a pine marten from the wild without a licence. It is also illegal to damage, destroy or obstruct access to a marten den site and to disturb a pine marten when it is occupying a den site.
This project aims to conduct an objective feasibility study for a proposed reintroduction of pine martens into south Cumbria, following guidelines from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The study will gather the opinions of local communities regarding the proposal and establish if the forest habitats are suitable for a reintroduced population.
Pine martens are recolonising Northumberland from their strongholds in Dumfries and Galloway but will need to cross obstacles such as road networks, open moorland and the Lakeland fells to reach the forested areas in the south of Cumbria. Mapping and modelling work will help to determine the value of bolstering the population in South Cumbria as a stepping stone between northern populations and recent reintroductions in Wales and the Forest of Dean.
Is BOOM reintroducing the pine marten to south Cumbria?
The BOOM project is only completing the feasibility element for a proposed pine marten reintroduction. The findings of the feasibility study will either support or recommend against a reintroduction in south Cumbria. If the study demonstrates public support and suitable habitat for a reintroduction a licence could be submitted to Natural England to catch and move pine martens under strictly controlled conditions from strong populations in Scotland to be released and closely monitored in the forests of south Cumbria. This implementation stage would require additional funding and a wider collaboration of project partners.
The views of the local communities will be collected through a schedule of engagement activities, including Covid 19 compliant face to face meetings, and through the use of digital resources such as zoom webinars and online questionnaires. Ecological work will include woodland surveys using remote camera traps to identify any remaining pine martens and to assess numbers of red and grey squirrels. Additional surveys will quantify small mammals to establish the prey base for pine martens and foxes as their main predator. BOOM project officers will run a number of events to train the public and students from the University of Cumbria in ecological survey methods and hope that in return they will volunteer their time to support the study.