European pine marten
|European pine marten|
|European pine marten range
(green – native, red – introduced)
The European pine marten (Martes martes), known most commonly as the pine marten in Anglophone Europe, and less commonly also known as pineten, baum marten, or sweet marten, is an animal native to Northern Europe belonging to the mustelid family, which also includes mink, otter, badger, wolverine and weasel. It is about the size of a domestic cat.
The body is up to 53 cm (21 in) in length, and its bushy tail can be 25 cm (10 in). Males are slightly larger than females; on average a marten weighs around 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). Their fur is usually light to dark brown and grows longer and silkier during the winter months. They have a cream to yellow coloured "bib" marking on their throats.
Their habitats are usually well-wooded areas. European pine martens usually make their own dens in hollow trees or scrub-covered fields. Martens are the only mustelids with semi-retractable claws. This enables them to lead more arboreal lifestyles, such as climbing or running on tree branches, although they are also relatively quick runners on the ground. They are mainly active at night and dusk. They have small rounded, highly sensitive ears and sharp teeth adapted for eating small mammals, birds, insects, frogs, and carrion. They have also been known to eat berries, birds' eggs, meat, nuts and honey. European pine martens are territorial animals that mark their range by depositing faeces (called 'scats') in prominent locations. These scats are black and twisted and can be confused with those of the fox, except that they reputedly have a floral odour.
Threats to this species
Although they are preyed upon occasionally by golden eagles and by red foxes, humans are the largest threat to pine martens. They are vulnerable from conflict with humans, arising from predator control for other species, or following predation of livestock and the use of inhabited buildings for denning. Martens may also be affected by woodland loss. Persecution (illegal poisoning and shooting) by gamekeepers, and loss of habitat leading to fragmentation, and human disturbance, have caused a considerable decline in the pine marten population. They are also prized for their very fine fur in some areas. In the United Kingdom, European pine martens and their dens are offered full protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
Great Britain and Ireland
In Great Britain, the species was until recently only at all common in north-western Scotland. Some individuals have lost their fear of man and come to take food provided for them, particularly enjoying jam and peanut butter. A study in 2012 found that martens have spread from their Highland stronghold, north into Sutherland and Caithness and south-eastwards from the Great Glen into Moray, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Tayside and Stirlingshire, with some in the Central Belt, on the Kintyre and Cowal peninsulas and on Skye and Mull. The expansion in the Galloway Forest has been limited compared with that in the core marten range. Martens were reintroduced to the Glen Trool Forest in the early 1980s. Only restricted spread has occurred from there.
In England, pine martens are extremely rare, and long considered probably extinct. A scat found at Kidland Forest in Northumberland in June 2010 may represent either a recolonisation from Scotland, or a relict population that has escaped notice previously. There have been numerous reported sightings of pine martens in Cumbria, however, it was not until 2011 that concrete proof – some scat that was DNA tested – was found. In July 2015 the first confirmed sighting of a pine marten in England for over a century was recorded by an amateur photographer in woodland in Shropshire.
There is also a small population of pine martens in Wales. Scat found in Cwm Rheidol forest in 2007 was confirmed to be from a pine marten using DNA testing. A male was found in 2012 as road-kill near Newtown, Powys. This was the first confirmed sighting in Wales of the species, living or dead, since 1971. Most recently the Vincent Wildlife Trust has begun a reinforcement of these mammals in the mid-Wales area. During autumn 2015, twenty pine martens were captured in Scotland, in areas where there is a healthy pine marten population, under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage. These animals were translocated and released in an area of mid-Wales. All of the martens were fitted with radio-collars and are being tracked daily to monitor their movements and find out where they have set up territories. During autumn 2016, the VWT will capture and release another twenty pine martens in the hopes of creating a self-sustaining population.
It is still quite rare in Ireland, but the population is recovering and spreading; its traditional strongholds are in the west and south, especially The Burren, but the population in the Midlands has significantly increased in recent years. A study managed by academics at Queens University Belfast, using cameras and citizen scientists, published in 2015, showed that Pine Martens were distributed across every county in Northern Ireland.
The recovery of the European pine marten is credited with reducing the population of invasive grey squirrels in the UK and Ireland. Where the range of the expanding European pine marten population meets that of the grey squirrel, the population of the grey squirrels quickly retreats and the red squirrel population recovers. It is theorised that because the grey squirrel spends more time on the ground than the red squirrel, which co-evolved with the pine marten, they are far more likely to come in contact with this predator. Generally, the diet of the pine marten includes small mammals, carrion, birds, insects and fruits.
The European pine marten has lived to 18 years in captivity, but in the wild a lifespan of eight to ten years is more typical. They reach sexual maturity at two or three years of age. The young are usually born in March or April after a 7-month-long gestation period in litters of one to five. Young European pine martens weigh around 30 grams at birth. The young begin to emerge from their dens by the middle of June and are fully independent around six months after their birth.
- "Vincent Wildlife Trust Website". Retrieved 10 November 2014.
- Scottish Natural Heritage; The Vincent Wildlife Trust (2013), Expansion zone survey of pine marten (Martes martes) distribution in Scotland (Project no: 13645) (PDF) (Commissioned Report) 520, retrieved 18 August 2013
- "Pine marten (Martes martes)". ARKive. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- "Pine Marten". The Vincent Wildlife Trust. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
- Found at last! pine marten rediscovered in Northumberland. Northumberland Wildlife Trust (1 July 2010).
- Pine Marten rediscovered in Cumbria after 10 years!. Wild Travel Magazine (May 2011).
- BBC article on pine marten sighting in Shropshire Shropshire pine marten sighting is the first in a century 16 July 2015.
- Independent article on Welsh population ‘Extinct’ animal turns up in Wales as roadside carcass proves elusive pine martens still exist 8 November 2012. Retrieved 31 October 2015
-  Vincent Wildlife Trust (17 January 2016).
- Kelleher, Lynn (4 March 2013) "Red Squirrels make comeback as Pine Martens feed on Greys" Irish Independent
- QUB study shows pine martens are more common in NI than thought
- George Monbiot, How to eradicate grey squirrels without firing a shot, Guardian, January 30, 2015.
- Emma Sheehy & Colin Lawton, Population crash in an invasive species following the recovery of a native predator: the case of the American grey squirrel and the European pine marten in Ireland, Biodiversity and Conservation, March 2014, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp. 753-774.
- Watson, Jeremy (30 December 2007) "Tufty's saviour to the rescue". Scotland on Sunday. Edinburgh.
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