Pine martens could be reintroduced to England after 150 years of absence

A pine marten in the woods at the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in Wester Ross, Scotland. (Credit: PA)

Critically endangered pine martens could be reintroduced to the south west of England after an absence of 150 years.

A coalition of conservation groups, including the National Trust, the Devon Wildlife Trust and the Woodland Trust, hope the nocturnal animals can be released as early as autumn 2024.

They are working with both Exmoor and Dartmoor National Park authorities to: identify two suitable locations for a release program.

The Two Moors Pine Marten Project is now in talks with residents, farmers, landowners and other land users to assess the impact of the plans on the environment and surrounding businesses.

Pine martens used to be among Britain’s most common mammals, but were pushed to the brink of extinction in England due to habitat loss and persecution.

The creatures could be reintroduced to the south west of England after an absence of 150 years. (Credit: PA)

In Victorian times they were shot for sport, caught for their fur and persecuted by gamekeepers, and by the 1880s they disappeared from the South West.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Britain’s remaining pine martens were confined to the northwestern Scottish highlands and small areas in the highlands of northern England and Wales.

But a study published last year found that the south west of England was ripe for a reintroduction program, despite not having the same large blocks of forest as Scotland and Wales.

It found that the low density of major roads in the region, combined with a network of forests and wooded valleys, often linked by river basins, would provide enough habitat for pine martens to thrive.

A study published last year found that the south west of England was ripe for a reintroduction programme. (Credit: PA)

Sarah Bryan, chief executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: ‘We are delighted to be exploring the opportunity to bring these charismatic creatures back into the rich natural heritage of Exmoor.

“The next step is to talk to local people and people with direct experience with pine martens to determine if reintroduction is right for Exmoor and, if so, how we can work together to design a successful reintroduction program.”

Pine martens are omnivores, feeding on anything available at the time of year, including voles, rabbits, fungi, berries and small birds – helping to balance the forest ecosystem.

Recent research has also shown that they can increase efforts to save the native red squirrel by preying on their more abundant gray rivals.

Britain is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, with a 41% decline in native fauna and flora since 1970. PA

Ed Parr Ferris, conservation manager at the Devon Wildlife Trust, said: ‘As communities are rightly trying to plant more forests to tackle carbon and climate, it is vital that we also bring back the wildlife and wild processes that ensure that those forests are alive and functioning properly.

“This can present challenges and sometimes requires changes in how we live alongside nature, which is why we want to work with everyone involved over the next 18 months to understand how we can do that sustainably – for pine martens, other wildlife and people.’

Last week, an Environment Agency report outlined the near-catastrophic pressures Britain’s wildlife is facing in the face of habitat loss and global warming.

Britain is one of the most depleted countries in the world, with 41% of native fauna and flora in abundance since 1970, and 15% in danger of extinction.

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