CUTE CRITTER: MEET THE PINE MARTEN

Twenty playful pine martens have set up their home in the woodlands surrounding Cabin 26 at the Forest Holidays site in Strathyre, Scotland.

Pine marten cubs playing - photo courtesy of Forest Holidays.

Pine marten cubs playing - photo courtesy of Forest Holidays.

Forest Holidays surveyed the British public, asking the nation if they knew what a pine marten was. The poll revealed that 60% of the population have no idea what a pine marten is; 35% of people assume that it is a bird, whilst 12% think it is a type of tree!

Pine martens used to be seen regularly across the UK but now they’re almost extinct in England and Wales. In Scotland however, forest restructuring brought about by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the 1980s has meant that pine marten populations are thriving. Conservationists are hopeful that raising awareness of this rare and protected species will support efforts to relocate the pine marten back to previously occupied areas of the UK, and a brand new study is being launched to assess the feasibility of translocating pine martens from Scotland into the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

Pine marten in grassland - photo courtesy of Forest Holidays.

Pine marten in grassland - photo courtesy of Forest Holidays.

Pine marten in the tree tops - photo courtesy of Forest Holidays.

Pine marten in the tree tops - photo courtesy of Forest Holidays.

Pine martens are a wonderful part of British wildlife, and have even been credited with reducing the population of the invasive grey squirrel, which has historically pushed out native red squirrels. The theory is that the grey squirrel is clumsier and heavier than the red squirrel and spends more time on the ground, making it easier prey for the nimble pine marten. This means that where pine martens are thriving, the red squirrel population also benefits.

PINE MARTEN FACTS

  1. Pine martens are a close cousin of otters and weasels (mustelids).
  2. They are between 19 and 27 inches long, roughly the size of a domestic cat.
  3. Pine martens live in woodland which provides plenty of cover for them to make their nests in tree hollows or abandoned animal homes.
  4. Pine martens are omnivores. They live on a diet of fruits and berries, supplemented with voles, rabbits, squirrels and insects.
  5. Pine martens have a real sweet tooth – particularly enjoying peanut butter scraps!
  6. The pine marten is super agile and can leap, run and hunt squirrels in the treetops of woodlands, twisting fluidly in mid-air to make a safe landing in the branches.
  7. Pine martens prefer to live alone. They are territorial and will protect areas between 5km2 and 20km2 - typically marking their territories with their droppings.
  8. Pine martens are mainly active at dusk and during the night and are normally quite tricky to spot unless it is on the hunt for food!

 

WHERE TO SEE PINE MARTENS IN THE WILD

Until translocation efforts are put in place to reintroduce the pine marten to England, the best places to spot these animals are all in Scotland. The country’s abundance of birch, spruce and pine mixed woodland offer plenty of places for pine martens to make dens, and aren’t too shabby to explore on foot either. Here are three of the best areas to visit in Scotland to increase your chances of spotting the elusive pine marten:

Cairngorms National Park
The largest park in the British Isles, Cairngorms National Park in north east Scotland stretches over 1,748 square miles and encompasses Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus, Perth, Kinross, Highland and the Cairngorms range of mountains. The remoteness and scale of the Cairngorms means they can provide a challenge for even the most experienced hill walkers. However, of the area’s 43 Munros at least five or six can be tackled in a day with just basic equipment and navigation skills. And if you’re looking to avoid any expeditions with altitude, the wild centre of the park can be trekked without encountering any summits.  For the best chance of spotting pine martens in this National Park, the Speyside Wildlife Hide in the park offers Dusk Watches. Located on the Rothiemurchus Estate, these tours offer the chance to not just spot pine martens, but also red and roe deer and badgers.

Aigas Field Centre, Inverness-Shire
The Field Centre in Aigas offers learning holidays and study courses that explore the stunning Scottish highlands and islands. Sir John Lister-Kaye rescued the House of Aigas in 1976, refurbishing the building to become a base for field studies in the area. The house is set in stunning grounds, filled with rockeries and trees planed during the Victorian era. The wildlife spotting opportunities at the Aigas Field Centre are incredible, from pine martens and badgers through to otters, deer and an huge number of different bird species. Day trips from the centre include treks along the Black Isle coastline (where you can try and spy bottlenose dolphins from Chanonry Point) and walks amongst the mountains of Glen Affric Nature Reserve.

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park
Overlooked by the peaks of Ben Ledi, the Forest Holidays Strathyre site in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park is a brilliant place for a walking and wildlife break in Scotland. The environment at Strathyre has attracted around 20 pine martens who are usually spotted during dusk and evening hours. Strathyre still offers plenty of rewarding walks to occupy the day times however; epitomising Highland grandeur with its looming mountains, deep glens and wide lochs. The circular walk around Strathyre is perfect for spotting forest birds, red squirrel and deer. The terrain is mostly paths, forest tracks and a few short climbs, with awesome views higher up the Tighanes Burn.