8 facts you (probably) didn’t know about pine martens

As Countryfile's Tom Heap investigates how pine martens may be helping Britain's red squirrels to survive, we give you the lowdown on this elusive animal. 

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8 pine marten’s facts you (probably) didn’t know
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1.    The elusive pine marten is a member of the Mustelidae family, along with badgers, otters, mink and many more. The name comes from the mammal’s choice of habitat, as it lives amongst mainly coniferous woodland such as pine forests. 

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2.    It’s believed that pine martens arrived in Britain in around 10,500 BCE, at the end of the last glacial period. They thrive in woodland habitats and around 6,500 years ago were the 2nd most common carnivore in Britain and Ireland. However things later went devastatingly wrong for the pine marten population.

3.    In the 1800s pine martens were hunted for fur and this combined with predator control by gamekeepers and habitat fragmentation led them to the verge of extinction in many areas of the UK. Only small populations survived in isolated areas across Northern England, Wales and Ireland. The Scottish highlands are the only area where their population still remains strong.

4.    Despite these bleak sounding times for the pine marten there was a sighting of the pine marten in early July this year in Shropshire, an area where the animal was thought to have died out a century ago. A few isolated groups live in parts of Wales, and experts believe they have travelled across the Welsh boarder into Shropshire. 

5.    Pine martens are very territorial – males can roam territory up to 25 square kilometres in size. Younger, smaller pine martens are often out-competed and need to travel to find new territories. They can easily travel up to 20km a day, and therefore it’s likely that as pine marten numbers increase, they will gradually travel to other parts of the Britain.    

6.    Pine martens can be a huge help to other species struggling to survive, as they function as another predator higher up the food chain. Red squirrel numbers are on the up in Northern Ireland and experts believe we have the pine marten to thank for the trend. Grey squirrels have been out-competing their red relatives for decades, but now, with more grey squirrels being eaten by the pine marten, the red population is improving.

7.    The golden eagle and the red fox may prey on the pine marten, killing it either for food or to eliminate it as competition, but humans are the main enemy for this cat-like creature and activities such as habitat fragmentation and trapping are by far the most damaging to an already dwindling population. 

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8.    Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the pine marten is protected from a lot of human activity. It’s illegal to intentionally or recklessly kill, injure or take wild pine martens, destroy their shelters or sell them, without a licence. Despite these measures to protect the pine marten, traps set for other animals such as foxes kill a large number of them.