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Pine Martens

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The role of the pine marten in red squirrel conservation is still unclear, however there is compelling evidence from studies in Scotland and Ireland that suggests that where pine martens are recovering their former range, grey squirrel numbers are declining, leading to a recovery in red squirrels. The relationships between the three species need further research though for us to fully understand why these patterns have been observed, and therefore to understand whether pine martens might also have a role to play in helping reds in northern England, where we are now starting to pick them up on trail cameras set out to monitor for squirrels, as they recolonise areas around the Scottish border, particularly Kielder Forest. 

 

Pine martens and red squirrels have evolved together over 1000's of years across Europe, in a natural predator/prey relationship. Pine martens suffered massive declines in areas of the UK through the 18th-20th centuries due to habitat loss, and through persecution, particularly as the game bird industry increased. Their return is being heralded by some people as a positive; for their intrinsic value (as one of the UK's 'lost species' that should be here by right), and for their role in naturally controlling grey squirrels, which could have have dual benefits: helping red squirrels, but also helping to protect British woodlands form the damage inflicted by this invasive species. However, martens are not universally being greeted with open arms: there are complications, not least negative attitudes towards predators, and the potential impact that they may have on gamebirds, other wildlife (such as rare bird species through nest predation) and livestock (poultry). 

 

Whatever the eventual outcome, this is an intriguing development on red squirrel conservation, and as we await further understanding of the impact, we suggest some further reading: