The Pine Marten was once historically widespread throughout the UK, but a combination of forest clearance and persecution led to its virtual extinction in England by about 1900, and withdrawal to the remote regions of Scotland. In the New Forest the species was very much ‘off-the-radar’ for over 100 years, and although there were sporadic sightings prior to 2016, there was no obvious pattern and no images of live animals ‘in the wild’.
That all changed in March 2016, when Wild New Forest captured still images and video of a Pine Marten at night in the central New Forest, using remote infrared camera traps operated under Forestry England licence. These were the first known images of Pine Marten in central southern England and, following a news release co-ordinated by the New Forest National Park Authority (see weblink below), the story featured in regional and national media, e.g. ITV News and The Times newspaper.
The next reports were less welcome - four roadkill specimens reported between spring 2016 and summer 2018, all within a few kilometres of the original camera trap sighting. The latter featured in a Wild New Forest story published in the Lymington Times (see cutting below), used to highlight the significant impacts of traffic on wild animals in the New Forest, as well as the free-roaming livestock.
In the meantime, live Pine Martens remained elusive - for three years they evaded our camera traps and hordes of camera-carrying visitors! Then, in summer 2018, one was filmed in a garden by Jon Cuthill from BBC Inside Out, which subsequently featured on that programme and included an interview with Russ (see weblink below).
In early 2019, we secured another camera trap record, when a camera deployed by our colleague, Andrew Colenutt, captured a Pine Marten just 2 km from the original March 2016 sighting (see image below).
Later in the summer, Matt Roseveare obtained excellent images of a Pine Marten crossing open ground in the late evening (see images below), that was the most popular post of 2019 on our Wild New Forest Facebook page!
So, in summary, since 2016, there have been at least four roadkill specimens (all apparently males), two camera trap records and two video/photo records, as well as several sightings by reliable observers. Most of these reports have come from a relatively small area of the central New Forest, but sporadic reports from other areas of the New Forest and coastal sightings at Keyhaven and Sandbanks in 2020 may indicate wider dispersal (see weblink below).
The reason for the post-2016 recent upsurge in records is unclear, but likely relates to unlicensed reintroduction. However, recent (licensed) reintroductions of Pine Martens in mid-Wales and the Forest of Dean might eventually lead to a connected population across southern and western UK.
Finally, are they welcome? Well, they are a native species, omnivorous, with a very broad diet (including Grey Squirrels!), and therefore unlikely to significantly impact other species, landscapes or people in the same way that other potential reintroduction candidates might. Our view at Wild New Forest is that if their presence helps to inspire the public about the natural world and encourages them to respect the New Forest as a haven for our native wildlife, then that has to be a good thing!
This blog is an expanded version of an article originally published in the New Forest Association newsletter 'Forest Matters'.