The mightiest mustelid
The European pine marten is staging a remarkable recovery, helped along by the species that caused its decline in the first place — man
The European pine marten is an endearing animal and has a certain charm — unless you keep poultry and it sets up home next to you. That is why Martes martes, as with many other predators, became more than a little uncommon in the latter part of the 19th century. It is true that gamekeepers and rabbit trappers were responsible for the reduction in numbers but then the former were tasked to ensure that livestock, poultry and game were protected.
To the rabbit trappers, pine martens were simply a by-catch, and the pelts were worth quite a bit in those bygone days when most fur was treasured. Unlike most other members of the mustelid or weasel family, the marten does not object to living in close proximity to humans, especially if those humans happen to keep other animals or birds that the marten could eat. This is still very much the case on mainland Europe.
Not so in this country. The pine marten is now fully protected by law, and it is for this reason that it is staging a remarkable recovery in terms of numbers and range. By the end of the 1800s, the pine marten was restricted to a few areas in Scotland and a tiny remnant population in Wales. Despite huge new forests and a decline in gamekeepers, that situation remained similar until 30 or so years ago, when the animal had something of a resurgence following its protection under law.
There is no doubt that much of the recolonisation north of the border has been down to the pine marten’s own efforts; in Wales, however, an open release programme by the Vincent Wildlife Trust has helped boost the population. Elsewhere things are not so straightforward, as a marten has been found on a stealth camera in the North York Moors this year. These are quite resourceful animals; SHOOTING TIMES & COUNTRY MAGAZINE • 47
The pine marten is enjoying something of a resurgence