Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, in collaboration with Sussex Wildlife Trust, are assessing the possibility of restoring pine martens to the South East of England.
The European pine marten (Martes martes) was considered functionally extinct in England due to extensive hunting and loss of habitat throughout the 19th century. Today, this rare species is mainly found in Scotland and Ireland, and has also been re-introduced into fragmented areas in other parts of the UK.
We would like to see the restoration of pine martens back to the South East of England as they are part of Britain’s natural fauna and play important roles which contribute to a biodiverse environment by dispersing the seeds they eat as well as influencing small mammal populations through predation as part of their varied diet.
This project is in its early stages. We are currently determining whether the habitat in the South East is suitable for pine martens, and talking to a range of local people and stakeholders about how they feel about pine martens and their potential reintroduction (called ecological and social feasibility studies). We are forming a stakeholder working group to enable discussions between a range of key organisations and community groups. This stakeholder working group will be a key component in determining the outcomes of the South East pine marten project. We will share information about the members once confirmed.
For more information about the project, please contact Suzanne Kynaston (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Amy Fitzmaurice (email@example.com) who are jointly managing this project with the Project Committee.
Pine martens are a member of the mustelid family, which includes badgers, otters, stoats, weasels and polecats. The pine marten is the size of a small domestic cat, with rich brown fur, a creamy-yellow chest ‘bib’, prominent rounded ears and a long bushy tail.
Yes, they are a native species that was on the verge of extinction due to extensive hunting and habitat loss, but numbers are now slowly recovering.
Pine martens have an extremely varied diet, with the most significant component comprising small mammals such as field and bank voles. They will also eat birds and their eggs, invertebrates including beetles and wasps’ nests and large quantities of berries in the autumn. They will consume what is locally and seasonally abundant. Crucially, pine martens are a native predator. Therefore, native forest species like red squirrels will have evolved alongside pine martens and should have some inherent fear of pine martens, reducing their chance of predation. Scientific studies have shown that the presence of apex predators in an ecosystem helps to keep stable and healthy prey populations.
Evidence from Ireland and Scotland suggests that where there are high numbers of pine martens, grey squirrel numbers are lower or decreasing, whilst red squirrels numbers are increasing. This trend is seen within as little as 15 years of pine martens recolonising an area. There is evidence from diet analysis that pine martens do eat grey squirrels. Pine martens will occasionally predate red squirrels, however red squirrels are small and agile and hard to catch. Grey squirrels are an invasive, non-native species that have caused a dramatic decline in red squirrels numbers nationally. In addition to their abundance, grey squirrels are larger and spend more time on the ground, so likely to bean easier prey item for pine martens. Grey squirrels also cause an exceptional amount of damage to trees through bark-stripping which is detrimental to tree growth. The Red squirrel trust states that there are 2.7 million greys and 140,000 reds in Britain. Therefore, having a natural predator back in the ecosystem to help reduce grey squirrels, will not only pave the way for red squirrels in the South East of England as well, but reduce economic impacts of tree damage.
Pine martens are one of Britain’s rarest mammals with a population estimated to be about 3,700. Humans were responsible for the decline of pine martens across the UK due to habitat destruction and persecution and they are now at risk of extinction. Pine martens have a long lifespan and breed slowly, only producing one or two kits every few years. Therefore, their natural recovery across Britain, resulting from the stronghold population in Scotland, will take a very long time. There have been previous successful reintroductions of the pine marten into Wales and the Forest of Dean, and a few smaller populations remain in other places. For these populations to be genetically and geographically viable in the long-term, we need to create other populations which help to link them all together.
This project provides an opportunity to help this native species recover in places that used to be its home. Research has identified potential locations throughout the South East where it may be possible to reintroduce pine martens successfully. Based on this evidence, and the opportunity to connect to an existing population in Hampshire, the South East is deemed to be an ecologically viable region to restore pine martens.
Pine martens thrive in mosaic landscapes which contain large woodland complexes – and there are a number of these in the South East including Ebernoe Common, the New Forest, Ashdown Forest and the High Weald. Average territory size for pine martens is about 10-25 km2 for males and about 5-15 km2 for females. Pine martens are also a flagship species for habitat restoration and Nature Recovery Networks that will help to provide ecological resilience for people against climate change, and important habitat for a range of species by creating a more biodiverse and connected landscape.
The project is in the early stages of development. We are currently looking into whether it is ecologically and socially feasible to reintroduce pine martens into the South East. Although previous research shows the South East is ecological viable, this project will also conduct this research to ensure the information is up to date and still correct, as habitats and landscape change over time. Based on best practice from previous reintroduction projects, it is vital to engage and co-develop such projects in collaboration with stakeholders to ensure the project’s success. We are therefore in the process of establishing the South East Pine Marten Stakeholder Working Group, being coordinated by the Project Committee (Kent Wildlife Trust, Wildwood Trust and Sussex Wildlife Trust). If the feasibility research shows that reintroduction is possible and sustainable, the stakeholder working group and committee will work together to develop a 10 year strategy to restore pine martens to the South East.