Pine martens: the species that is returning to the Forest of Dean
- Credit: Mark Hamblin/2020vision
November is an exciting time for local wildlife, says Sue Bradley
Pine martens have not been seen in the Forest of Dean for more than a century, but this autumn they're set to make a comeback. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has been working with Forestry England, Forest Research and The Vincent Wildlife Trust, with support from Forest Holidays and The Woodland Trust, to carry out a project to reintroduce this long-absent member of the weasel family.
The release of some 20 pine martens in the Forest of Dean follows more than three years of research and feasibility studies, along with extensive consultations with people living in the area. The animals, which are roughly the size of domestic cats, with long slender bodies and dark brown fur with pale throat patches, are being sourced from Scotland. The first 20 pine martens will be followed by a further two batches over the next two years, with each one being fitted with tracking devices so that its movements can be monitored.
Dr Cat McNicol is overseeing the project for Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, building on the work carried out by Dr Andrew Stringer, and says the reintroduction will be a step towards securing the future of the pine marten, one of the 18 most threatened terrestrial mammal species in the UK. She explains that the Forest of Dean and lower Wye Valley have long been deemed suitable for populations of the mammal because they have large sections of woodlands and a high proportion of broad-leaved trees. The area also lies reasonably close to recently re-introduced pine martens in Wales, which gives each group a greater chance of survival.
Pine martens are a native species but disappeared from many parts of the country over the 19th and 20th Centuries as a result of the destruction of their habitats, along with trapping and killing. They're now a protected species and work to reintroduce them to different parts of the UK recognises the ongoing risk of extinction, combined with a greater understanding of the role they play within their local eco-systems; the diet of the pine marten changes with the seasons, but can include voles, mice, insects, birds and berries such as blackberries and rowan berries. There is also interest in their relationship with grey squirrels, which are associated with damage to trees.
While the movements of the newly-released pine martens will be tracked, it's unlikely that many people will actually see these nocturnal creatures within their new habitats as they generally avoid humans.
Indeed, it took Dr McNicol a year and a half to encounter one on the flesh, but she says it will be a 'magical feeling' to know that pine martens are in the Forest of Dean again, even if they can't be seen.
More information about the reintroduction of pine martens can be found at: www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk and the organisation is keen to hear from anybody who would like to volunteer for the project or has questions.
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