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Kings of Kent: can pine martens make a comeback?

In need of a helping hand

Pine martens – large, elegant, chestnut-brown relatives of stoats, badgers and otters – were once numerous in Britain. However their populations suffered a severe decline during the late 1800s due to hunting persecution and habitat loss. Whilst in Scotland pine martens are doing okay, the species is now classed as critically endangered in England and Wales. Just a few fragmented populations remain in England. In Wales, a population released by Vincent Wildlife Trust, with support from PTES, is doing well. The success of the release means others are now underway to bring this majestic species back to its former range.

Pine martens have a varied diet – feeding on small mammals, berries and birds’ eggs – which means they play an important role in a healthy woodland ecosystem. They do this both through predator control, particularly of invasive grey squirrels, as well as being important seed dispersers. Consequently conservation efforts that are aimed at recovering their populations are also critical for the general restoration of British wildlife.

Restoration through releases

Reintroduction programmes can be a critical strategy for population recovery, as proved not only in Wales but also closer to home. Since 2019, 35 pine martens have been translocated from Scotland to Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean. The success of this first English translocation is clear: at least four litters of kits have been born to date. However, reintroduction projects require extensive research and pre-planning to ensure that relocated populations will be successful in their new environment. 

Ensuring success

PTES’s new intern, Ella Lewis, is working with a team at Kent Wildlife Trust to assess how feasible a release will be in southeast England.  A successful pine marten release requires careful planning and this is where Ella’s skills come in. Ella will produce species distribution models across Kent and Essex which will help her and the team to evaluate where suitable habitat is available. She’ll also use modelling to predict the animals’ likely routes of dispersal from the proposed release site.

“I’ll be using statistical models to predict what environmental conditions and habitats they thrive best in, using occurrence records from populations across Europe”, explains Ella. “This information can then be used to predict the best locations in south England for pine martens to be released.” In partnership with The South East Pine Marten Restoration Project, this internship will provide valuable data to ensure the project is a success. Ella’s work will be critical to the 10-year strategy to restore pine martens to south England and will hopefully provide an insight into how effective data analysis and the use of mapping can be for improving the success of future conservation efforts.

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