One of Britain’s rarest mammals, the pine marten, has now started to recolonise the Upper Tweed Valley, according to scientists.
A report just published finds that pine martens are starting to recolonise three new separate areas of southern Scotland.
The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report, in collaboration with The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), confirmed the presence of pine martens in areas immediately south and west of Glasgow and in Annandale and Eskdalemuir, as well as in the Upper Tweed Valley.
Pine martens were once found throughout Britain, but suffered one of the most dramatic declines of any British mammal.
Woodland clearance, trapping for its fur, and predator control by gamekeepers led to a widespread drop in pine marten numbers in the 19th century.
In the last half of the 20th century, however, pine martens have spread from their traditional Highlands stronghold and populations are now established in most areas north of the Central Belt, including the northern fringes of Glasgow and some other parts of the Central Belt.
The species is still rare in the UK and absent from most of England and Wales. In 1988, the pine marten given full legal protection.
A small number of pine martens were reintroduced to the Galloway Forest in the early 1980s, but these latest arrivals are not thought to have spread from this group – which has remained in isolation.
These new groups of pine martens, including those in the Upper Tweed Valley, have most likely originated from a combination of natural spread and deliberate releases back into the wild.
The information on the pine martens in new areas comes from a recent survey, in which pine marten droppings were collected from woodlands and subjected to DNA analysis to confirm their origin. Records of pine martens were also collected from foresters, naturalists and local record centres.
Lizzie Croose, VWT’s survey coordinator, says the pine marten is the first mammalian predator, which almost became extinct in the 19th century, to make a substantial recovery in Scotland.
“Pine martens have been absent from most of southern Scotland for almost 200 years so their return is significant,” she said.
Rob Raynor, SNH’s mammal advisory officer, added: “Considering how common pine martens once were and how severely their numbers dropped, it’s quite likely that they will recolonise most suitable habitats in southern Scotland in time.”
Pine martens generally prefer to live in woodlands but can also live in crags and on rocky hillsides.
It is an excellent climber and its diet includes small mammals, such as field voles, invertebrates, fruit, small birds and carrion.
To coincide with the publication of this report, and recognising how pine martens do sometimes occupy the roof spaces of houses, a new leaflet has just been produced jointly by SNH and VWT called Living with Pine Martens – a guide to the pine marten in Scotland, which provides guidance on what householders can legally do in these situations.