Pine marten study published

Wednesday 13th June 2018

Pine marten (C) Terry Whittaker/2020 VisionPine marten (C) Terry Whittaker/2020 Vision

A ground-breaking study into whether pine martens could be reintroduced to the Forest of Dean has been published following two years of research and consultation.

Pine martens are native to Britain and used to be a common sight, including in the Forest of Dean. However, they were wiped out from much of England and Wales about 150 years ago and are now one of Britain’s rarest mammals. They are still found in parts of Scotland and Ireland, and a small number were recently moved to mid Wales as part of a species recovery project.

In summer 2016, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission England, supported by Forest Holidays and the Woodland Trust, began a project to assess the feasibility of reintroducing pine martens to the Forest of Dean and lower Wye Valley. A scientific study and community consultation have now been published. The study, which has used information from national and international sources, shows that the Forest of Dean and lower Wye Valley has abundant suitable habitat for pine martens if they are reintroduced in the area.

“The Forest of Dean was once a stronghold for pine martens, but they were eradicated from this area and are now virtually extinct in England. The research that we have carried out over the last two years shows a number of benefits for people and wildlife in the Forest of Dean if pine martens were to be reintroduced,” says Dr Andrew Stringer, Pine Marten Project Manager at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

Pine marten (C) Terry Whittaker/2020 VisionThere would be many benefits for local people. Pine martens are a joy to watch, would engage people with nature, and may encourage more visitors to the region.

A series of public meetings and online and on-street public opinion surveys shows strong support for the reintroduction of pine martens to the area. Forest Research were employed to complete an on-street survey, and found 71% of people in favour, 26% undecided, and 3% opposed to a reintroduction.

“Community support is essential for the reintroduction to proceed and I have met representatives from a variety of groups. There was broad support for the principle of reintroducing a native species. Many suggested that their concerns could be addressed if the impact of pine martens is monitored in detail. We thoroughly support this approach, and any reintroduction project would also have five years of detailed monitoring alongside it,” says Dr Stringer.

The study also assessed the environmental impact of pine martens in the area. Predators such as pine martens are essential for healthy local habitats. Pine martens have been shown to control grey squirrels, which are known to cause a range of problems, and in Scotland and Ireland pine martens have helped red squirrels to fight back against non-native grey squirrels.

“The only high risk we identified was the potential disturbance of bat roosts within buildings by pine martens looking for den sites. The project team has experience of preventing this from happening, and we would introduce such measures if the reintroduction goes ahead. However, pine martens may hunt pheasants and chickens that are kept within woodlands. Preventing this will involve very similar techniques to preventing foxes eating poultry,” says Dr Stringer.

Dr Stringer has identified additional steps that need to be taken before a decision is made about whether a reintroduction could go ahead: “We need to be able to ensure that we can mitigate any potential impacts on horseshoe bat populations, and check what disease safeguards are needed.”

The project would be carried out to the highest standards and would only go ahead if the necessary funds are in place. This could take a number of months and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has launched the first stage of a fundraising campaign.

The study shows that the region could support nearly 200 pine martens but recommends that if a reintroduction goes ahead up to 60 animals should be released. Pine martens live over large areas at low density (one pine marten per 100 hectares is considered a high-density population). They live in woodlands and their main prey is small mammals, but they have a broad and varied diet, for instance eating large quantities of berries in the autumn.

“If reintroduction goes ahead, pine martens in the Forest of Dean could contribute to a wider, regional population in the west of Britain, along with the establishing Welsh population,” says Vincent Wildlife Trust’s Dr Jenny MacPherson.

“The Forest of Dean is one of the most extensive areas of mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest within England. Its intimate mosaic of woodland habitats, open habitats, clearfell sites and network of forestry rides make it highly suitable for pine martens to breed and forage. The Forestry Commission are delighted to be part of this exciting project,” says the Forestry Commission.

A decision about whether to reintroduce pine martens will be made in 2018.

Regular updates about the project are available online here