A cat-sized predator known as a pine marten has started to make a comeback in the south of England after teetering on the brink of extinction. It is hoped that doing so will help restore some balance to the forests between red squirrels and grey squirrels. The good news comes after scientists found evidence pine martens are breeding in the New Forest.
A relative of stoats and otters, the animals were once widespread across the U.K. before hunting drove them to near extinction in the 1900s.
With funding from Defra, over the last two years, researchers at Forestry England have been setting camera traps in the New Forest after reports began to surface of pine martens in the area. Now, those involved with the conservation efforts have revealed that they’re confident the population, while still small, is breeding and growing steadily. To back this up,
more than 100 videos of the mammals were captured in 2022, including some showing kits playing together.
Making a Comeback
“From the data we’ve got and the early records, it’s a growing population. We’re definitely confident they’re establishing and increasing in number and spreading to the suitable habitat,” senior ecologist for Forestry England Leanne Sargeant said. “Restoring this lost species back to its native habitat is a real positive because it is a species that should have been here all along. It is man that’s caused its extinction, so we are restoring that status back to its natural state.”
Sargeant added that her group is also working to try to reintroduce pine martens back to other wooded areas in the south of England. “We’re looking at the feasibility of pine marten reintroductions along the south coast. There’s some joint projects in the South Downs and Kent. It would be ideal to have a sort of reintroduction project in areas like Wiltshire, Somerset, or Dorset where we could link across into the Forest of Dean and the Welsh populations – or possibly down in the southwest like Exmoor and Dartmoor.”
Grey Squirrel Populations
Sharing with The Telegraph, Sargeant explained, “There’s plenty of evidence coming from Scotland and Northern Ireland where red squirrels are doing really well where Pine martens have re-established. Pine martens are causing grey squirrels to have a wider dispersal area. As soon as we can get on top of grey squirrels, we could establish red squirrels back across a wider area. It is not a fact that the pine marten is suddenly going to eat every grey squirrel in the South of England, but they will have some impact.”