The shy and elusive pine marten, a woodland creature almost hunted to extinction in the UK, has been reintroduced to a forest in the English west country.
Eighteen of the animals have been released at a secret and remote location in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.
Conservationists hope the animals will breed, spread and eventually link up with a group of pine martens that was reintroduced across the border in Wales.
It is possible the reintroduction will help manage the number of non-native grey squirrels in the forest and anywhere else the pine martens reach.
Pine martens, which belong to the same family as otters and weasels, were once common in the UK. They are similar in size to a domestic cat with slim bodies, brown fur, a distinctive cream bib on their throats, long, bushy tails and prominent rounded ears.
Extensive hunting, together with the loss of their woodland home, have led to them being pushed out to more remote parts of the UK. Their only remaining stronghold is in the Highlands of Scotland.
There are believed to be about only 20 pine martens left in England. Between 2015 and 2017, more than 50 Scottish pine martens were captured and transported to Wales, where there is now an established population.
In August and September this year, 18 pine martens were trapped near Inverness and taken to Gloucestershire. They were fitted with tracking collars and released into the Forest of Dean.
Gareth Parry, the director of conservation at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, said the pine martens’ activity will be closely monitored. He predicted a setback for the local grey squirrels, who tend to produce fewer young when there is a potential predator in the area. A reduction in the number of grey squirrels could help preserve ancient woodland, which they damage.
The pine martens are likely to co-exist happily with the wild boar, a Forest of Dean inhabitant, which has made a comeback in the area.
Parry added: “We are in a biodiversity emergency and conserving our remaining wildlife is not enough. We must also take action to support nature’s recovery.”
Catherine McNicol, the trust’s conservation project manager, said people were unlikely to see pine martens soon. “Pine martens are elusive and shy animals, with their presence often only indicated by scats in the middle of forestry tracks,” she said. “They only give birth to a few kits each year if breeding is even successful, so the rate of marten population recovery in the UK is low.”
Rebecca Wilson, Forestry England’s planning and environment manager in west England, said: “As native omnivores, pine martens play a vital role in the delicate balance of woodland ecosystems.
Article Source: The Guardian