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Pine marten

Martes martes

One of several species of mustelid that are native to the UK, this is an agile predator that lives in trees

Pine marten in pine tree
Pine martens are in their element in woodlands  © Mark Hamblin / Scotlandbigpicture com

How it shapes the landscape

Pine martens prey on small mammals, carrion and insects, as well as eating birds’ eggs, berries and honey.

There is growing evidence that pine marten predation has a positive impact on red squirrel populations, through targeting non-native grey squirrels. Grey squirrels are slower, more numerous, larger, spend more time on the ground and haven’t evolved to evade them.

This could potentially help defuse the resource competition between grey and red squirrels and help save our native red squirrel. They may also help reduce the significant damage to trees caused by greys.

Where it likes to be

Pine martens are a woodland animal, preferring our native woods but tolerating conifer plantations. Their deep woody-coloured fur and cream bib reflect its favoured hangout, camouflaging it against the bark as it hunts its prey through the trees.

How much space they need

One pine marten ideally needs at least 100 hectares of native woodland within its territory. Rewilding at scale is a must if we are to support a viable population around Britain once again.

Pine marten in grass
Pine martens are also speedy hunters on the ground  © Iain Leach / Wildscreen

Background story

Once prevalent throughout Britain, by the late 19th century only a few populations of pine martens in the north and west of Scotland had survived, due to the destruction of our vast wild woodlands and coming into conflict with humans.

In 1988 legal protection was introduced to prevent hunting and persecution by gamekeepers and others, and a licence is now required to carry out work relating to pine martens. The legal protection has enabled the spread of pine martens into southern Scotland and over the border into northern counties of England. Excitingly, there have now been confirmed sightings in Northumberland, Cumbria, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Powys in Wales.

Can we have them in Britain?

Between 2015 and 2017, some 51 pine martens were translocated from Scotland to Wales, where there is now a viable population. Moves for licensed reintroductions in southern England have been slow to gain traction and possibly as a result, unlicensed reintroductions have taken place in the New Forest. 

A licensed project is running in the Forest of Dean and a study is underway for a release in Exmoor and Dartmoor in 2024. There are perhaps 4,000 pine martens in Britain, with the vast majority in Scotland.

In summary

  • Hunted to extinction in much of England and Wales
  • A member of the weasel family, Mustelidae
  • Pine martens are a nocturnal species and are very hard to spot
  • Baby pine martens are called kits
  • Adapted for life in the trees, but they can be quick across ground too
Bison
 © Lightpoet / Shutterstock

Recovery through reintroductions

Why bringing back native species is a key part of re-establishing natural processes and restoring ecosystems