Pine Martens in the New Forest: autumn 2016 update

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By Russell Wynn, 06 November 2016

Earlier this year, Wild New Forest captured the first footage of wild Pine Martens within the New Forest National Park, as part of a long-term camera-trapping project that is conducted under a Forestry Commission licence. This remarkable story featured on ITV News, in The Times newspaper, and a range of other local, regional and national media, and succeeded in alerting the public and wildlife observers to be on the lookout for this species in the future. The sighting was featured on the NPA website at the link below:

http://www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/news/article/801/extinct_pine_martens_discovered_in_the_new_forest

 

The Pine Marten recorded on our camera traps featured on ITV News on 28 March 2016
The Pine Marten recorded on our camera traps featured on ITV News on 28 March 2016

 

The sighting raised a number of questions: How many animals are at large in the New Forest? How did they get here? And are they breeding? Despite intensive camera trap coverage of the area around the original observation over the last seven months, our cameras have yet to regain contact with any Pine Martens. However, they have recorded a range of other mammals, which will be the focus of a future WNF blog.

Nevertheless, the plot thickened on 27 April when a dead male Pine Marten was picked up as roadkill about 2000 m from the original camera trap location. Ironically, the finder had recently been in Scotland searching (unsuccessfully) for Pine Martens, and so had the presence of mind to pass the corpse to New Forest NPA Ecologist, Ian Barker, who secured some good-quality photos. Although the corpse showed no obvious signs of damage, the fact it was picked up from a roadside verge suggests it was the victim of a road traffic accident.

 

Pine Marten road-kill from 27 Apr 2016 (photo by Ian Barker)
Pine Marten road-kill from 27 Apr 2016 (photo by Ian Barker)

 

Close-up of Pine Marten road-kill from 27 Apr 2016 (photo by Ian Barker)
Close-up of Pine Marten road-kill from 27 Apr 2016 (photo by Ian Barker)

 

During this period a series of other sightings of varying quality were reported from elsewhere in the New Forest (and beyond), several of which were passed to Hampshire Mammal Group. One of these was of particular interest, as it was a dusk sighting by experienced observers very close to the roadkill location. However, no further photos or video came forward, and we began to wonder whether the roadkill animal was the one captured on our camera trap, and whether it was just a lone individual.

However, the story progressed further on 12 Aug, when a nocturnal sighting of a probable or definite Pine Marten was reported to Martin Noble, seen on a roadside verge less than 1000 m from the original camera trap site. And then, in mid-October, another adult male Pine Marten was found by Brian Follett as roadkill about 1500 m from the location of the first roadkill. The corpse was retained, and the chest markings appear to indicate that it was not the same animal as that captured on our camera trap.

 

Pine Marten road-kill from mid-Oct (photo by Brian Follett)
Pine Marten road-kill from mid-Oct (photo by Brian Follett)

 

So, in summary, we now appear to be dealing with a population of several Pine Martens in the central New Forest, with a clear cluster of camera trap observations, visual sightings, and roadkill animals within an area of about 4 km2. We therefore plan to upscale our camera trap operation in this area in the coming months to try and locate any further animals, and will be putting in further fieldwork next summer to try and determine whether these animals are breeding.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Pine Martens are currently part of an ongoing reintroduction scheme into central Wales, co-ordinated by the Vincent Wildlife Trust. Some of the reintroduced animals have already raised offspring, and further details can be found here:

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