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Martin on Martens: Pine marten natural history and conservation

26 January 2016, Christchurch

John Martin, who has devoted his career to working with Pine marten recovery programmes, especially in Galloway, ended his fascinating and fact filled presentation with this searing question. Managing the recovery of an endangered or locally extinct predator is always controversial and never easy. The Pine marten, one of the smaller mustelids, is the only marten native to UK. Prolific and extensive post-glaciation, it was the UK’s most numerous carnivore. Now it is the rarest after the Scottish Wild cat. It suffered a long decline until by 1577 it was as rare as a beaver.

A dedicated recovery programme since the mid 20th century has seen numbers increase dramatically in Scotland and Ireland. By 2012 it had spread throughout most of the Highlands. Inevitably a creature that many find enchanting, others see as a pest.  In parts of Scotland it has taken to nesting under roofs. As it enjoys an extremely boisterous and noisy courtship in domestic situations it counts as one of those things that go bump in the night. Being omnivorous, it also helps itself to fruit in your gardens and the odd chicken.

One very interesting, but poorly understood, development seems to be emerging in Ireland: in areas where the Pine marten is abundant: grey squirrel populations are in decline, while red squirrels are on the increase. There is some anecdotal evidence that this may also be happening in Scotland.  So, let us welcome the Pine marten’s recovery but look out for your raspberries!

Peta Constable, Wharfedale Naturalists Society

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