New Forest conservationists to gather data on elusive local pine martens
A POPULATION of rare pine martens which have made their home in the New Forest are to be studied using hidden cameras.
The shy, chestnut-brown creatures, which were previously thought to live mainly in the north of England, Wales and Scotland, were first spotted in the New Forest in 1993.
However, sightings are rare so a team of conservationists from Forestry England, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Wild New Forest will spend the next year gathering data on the elusive cat-sized animals.
Forestry England senior ecologist Leanne Sargeant said: “It is not often that we are able to talk about wildlife returning to landscapes and re-establishing their populations, so this is a really fascinating development to study.”
Once widespread across the UK, pine martens are members of the weasel family and largely feed on small rodents, birds, insects and fruit.
They prefer to live in well-wooded areas with plenty of cover, but habitat loss and human activity have seen numbers drastically reduced with only small and fragmented populations now remaining.
Since they were first spotted by the New Forest Badger Group in 1993, there have been a number of other sightings, including pine martens inadvertently captured on hidden cameras set up to monitor other species.
Now the survey team hope to gather evidence to establish the size of the New Forest population, the habitats that attract them and their breeding success.
Because they can be identified by a pale yellow bib of fur on their throats it is possible to record every individual, observing their interactions and recording family groups.
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust spokesperson, Joanne Gore, said: “Pine martens should be part of the natural ecology of the south of England, but persecution and habitat loss have decimated the population. However, tantalising records over the years have hinted that a population might indeed be once again present in the Forest."
Marcus Ward, from specialist conservation consultancy Wild New Forest, added: “Since we recorded the first video evidence of pine martens in the New Forest in 2016, we have been following their progress with great interest.
"This new project is a wonderful opportunity to assess the current status of the New Forest population and will help inform their future conservation.”
The project, part-funded by DEFRA, will share its findings with the national pine marten strategy, focussing on the recovery of this species. The survey team is also being supported by the New Forest Badger Group and is keen for other organisations and landowners to get involved.