Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Pine Martens to help Red Squirrels?

It is no secret that I have a soft spot for the pine marten. To me it is the most beautiful animal in the world! Of course I have a passion for all British wildlife, but another of my favourites is our native red squirrel. So with the recent research coming out that the pine marten may be able to help save the red squirrel, I was of course very interested.

It has been thought for along time that the pine marten may be able to help keep grey squirrel numbers down in an area, but not until recently has it been studied further. Over in  Ireland recent studies have shown a decline in grey squirrel numbers where pine martens are present, and grey squirrel remains in the pine martens diet.

Coupled with the European diet for pine martens showing a small percentage is squirrel (which of course would be red squirrel over there), it is thought that the more arboreal nature of the red, and the lighter weight allowing them to get to branches a pine marten couldn't, is one reason why the pine marten doesn't prey on them so much. The more ground nature of the greys, and their larger/slower nature make them easier targets.

So, could introducing the pine marten in to certain areas not only help boost their rare numbers, but also help protect our iconic red squirrel from extinction?

Well, it is difficult to predict of course. Grey squirrels are more established over here, and are arguably in greater densities to begin with. And despite people saying that a pine marten is less likely to take a red squirrel, it certainly still would if it had the chance. Of course the big problem then is how do we get the pine martens in the first place to introduce in to these areas.

One option is captive breeding, but if you have visited the Centre before, you will appreciate how difficult this is to do. Very few places have managed it, and although we have all our fingers crossed that one of our females, Bonnie, may be pregnant now... we have never successfully bred these animals in the past. Working closely and listening to other centres who keep these animals, and in some cases have bred them too, we are hoping we will manage this one day. The more people that are successful  the more we can all help each other out, and that is why many centres that keep pine martens are now trying to co-operate with each other to ensure we can help with the future of this animal if needs be.

The other option possibly could be relocation. The pine marten suffered some bad press earlier last year with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association calling for a cull. The reason... their potential impact on capercaille. How does that work? Both are native, and ironically our current capercaille were introduced from Scandinavia. With less than 4,000 pine martens in the UK it seems unfathomable that a cull even cropped up.

But maybe relocating them could be a way to keep everyone happy. Where their densities are increasing, and they are causing a potential problem not only with the game birds but also moving in to peoples loft spaces,  they could be relocated into other areas? Something that is being looked in to by certain groups.

As mentioned before, my love of pine martens is no secret, and I have a particular bond with Bonnie, one of our females. Therefore I was thrilled when Sandra Palme presented me with this fantastic portrait she had drawn of my favourite girl! If you think this picture looks good, you should see it for real... the detail is simply amazing and it is no mistaking that it is Bonnie.

Have a look at Sandra's website if you get the time... you will get to see some more samples of her work, including some more drawings of our animals including our otters and foxes!


  1. Sandra also paints Ssottish Wildcats:

  2. I'm totally with you on pine martens, Matt (and much else). Like you, I think they may be the most beautiful animals in the world. And it would be wonderful if one endangered species could help save another from extinction!

    In case you're interested, I've just written a blog which describes the foxes at the BWC (I have a passion for foxes!). It's a bit scathing politically (because of the media persecution of foxes), but to make up for it I've included photos I took of Frodo, Flo and Ellis! If you'd like to use the photos for any reason, please feel free (there are more on my photography site at - but if you do, I'd be very grateful if you credit me as the photographer - and maybe provide a link to my website if possible?

    I love my visits to the BWC and hope to be back there again sometime this spring. Meanwhile, good luck with Bonnie, and I hope she does herself and the BWC proud! :)


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