Pine Martens filmed in the New Forest!

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By Russell Wynn and Marcus Ward, 24 March 2015

Exciting news – we have just secured the first photos and video of Pine Martens in the New Forest National Park! This is the first time that conclusive footage of these rare mammals has been recorded in the wild in central southern England, and comes hot on the heels of other confirmed sightings in Cornwall and Shropshire in 2015.

Pine Martens are mostly nocturnal, are similar in size to a domestic cat, and have a varied diet that includes small mammals, birds, insects, eggs, fruit and berries. They were once widespread across the UK, but persecution and woodland habitat loss saw them retreat to Scotland and become one of our most endangered mammals. Despite occasional scattered sightings in remote upland areas of England and Wales in recent decades, the species was thought to be virtually extinct in these countries. However, things are looking up for the Pine Marten as, in addition to the 2015 English sightings, the Vincent Wildlife Trust recently commenced a re-introduction programme in mid-Wales.

Since 2010, about 20 Pine Marten sightings from the New Forest have been reported to Hampshire Mammal Group, a marked increase compared to earlier years. However, although several of these reports came from experienced observers, none of them were supported by photographic evidence or DNA analysis of droppings (scats). Therefore, one of the more ambitious aims of our Wild New Forest camera-trapping programme was to target potential sites where we might capture a Pine Marten on film (see our previous blog post for information on New Forest camera trapping, which is undertaken with a Forestry Commission licence).

The first indication that we had stumbled upon this furry prize came on 07 March 2016, when a camera trap deployed at our Hawfinch bait station in the central New Forest captured an image that appeared to show a Pine Marten looking away from the camera. This image was taken just before dawn, at 0601 hrs, and expert advice from colleagues seemed to support our identification as Pine Marten.

 

Camera trap image showing the neck and head of an apparent Pine Marten in the bottom left of the image; the height of the camera above the ground suggests this animal is rearing up on its hind legs, which is common behaviour in this species.
Camera trap image from 07 March 2016, showing the neck and head of an apparent Pine Marten in the bottom left of the image; the height of the camera above the ground suggests this animal is rearing up on its hind legs, which is common behaviour in this species

 

The tension built when, just three days later at 0312 hrs, we captured a series of images showing an apparent Pine Marten sniffing around the base of a tree next to the bait station, although the distance to the animal prevented firm identification.

 

This image from 10 March 2016 shows a Muntjac Deer (right) and an apparent Pine Marten (left) just visible at the base of a large tree; however, the distance to the animal prevented firm identification
This image from 10 March 2016 shows a Muntjac Deer (right) and an apparent Pine Marten (left) just visible at the base of a large tree; however, the distance to the animal prevented firm identification

 

These tantalising glimpses were very exciting, but we still lacked a really conclusive image that would prove beyond doubt that we were dealing with a Pine Marten. Fortunately, we struck gold on 12 March 2016, when a trail camera recording video clips captured some great footage of a Pine Marten visiting the bait station at 1907 hrs.

https://youtu.be/kUlKQvu1lqM

https://youtu.be/igIzV_yCSpg

 

We subsequently recorded further video clips (presumably of the same animal) on 15 and 17 March 2016, and have left the cameras in place at this site in the hope of obtaining further images.

https://youtu.be/EIBIEjQBieI

https://youtu.be/bhr7p3YAI7U

 

Screengrab from one of the video clips taken on 17 March 2015 at 0014 hrs
Screengrab from one of the video clips taken on 17 March 2016 at 0014 hrs

 

Our visiting Pine Marten appears to be attracted to the black sunflower seeds being dispensed at the bait station, and the fact it is sometimes being seen around dawn and dusk suggests it may have a den nearby. Although the provenance of this animal is unknown, the scatter of recent New Forest sightings (including a couple near to our bait station) may indicate that a small population has become established within the National Park. Given the number of recent sightings, it is perhaps surprising that there have been no records of roadkill Pine Martens in the New Forest; this contrasts with Polecats, which are sadly mostly recorded as road casualties.

 

Polecats are rarely seen alive in the New Forest, and are mostly reported as road casualties; this unfortunate animal was found on the A337 near Lymington on 13 March 2016
Polecats are rarely seen alive in the New Forest, and are mostly reported as road casualties; this unfortunate animal was found on the A337 near Lymington on 13 March 2016

 

We will be continuing our camera-trapping programme to try and assess the numbers of Pine Martens in the central New Forest, and whether they are successfully breeding. These Pine Marten sightings, and our flourishing Goshawk population, certainly make these exciting times for New Forest predator enthusiasts, but maybe less so for Grey Squirrels as they are a favoured prey item for both species!

Further details about Pine Martens in the UK, and the Welsh re-introduction project can be found at the Vincent Wildlife Trust website:

http://www.vwt.org.uk/species/pine-marten/

http://www.pine-marten-recovery-project.org.uk

Further details about the Shropshire Pine Marten project can be found here:

http://shropshiremammalgroup.com/research/pine-martens/