Pine Martens: an ally for our mid Wales Red Squirrels?

The Vincent Wildlife Trust is hoping to boost mid Wales’ struggling pine marten population by bringing a small but significant number of martens from Scotland.

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

Charismatic, elusive and running out of time; this native Welsh mammal, bele’r coed, has all but disappeared from the Welsh landscape.

Once widespread throughout Britain, the pine marten’s historical decline began with forest clearance, but was exacerbated by the rise in game shooting and associated predator control in the 19th century.

By 1900, the marten was effectively extinct over much of Britain, confined to the more remote upland areas that included Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains. Today, the marten is hanging on in the more isolated areas of rural Wales, but it is clear that the numbers are just too low for the population to survive without intervention, so intervention is planned.

The pine marten is chiefly a woodland animal and will avoid open countryside. Its preferred diet is small mammals and fruit, but it is an opportunist and will take whatever is locally abundant.

Pine martens will eat grey squirrels – which could be fantastic news for red squirrels. Red squirrels are agile and too quick for most pine martens who find the larger and much slower grey squirrel a far easier target. There is evidence of declining grey squirrel numbers in areas where the pine marten is recovering and a corresponding increase in numbers of red squirrels.

Now is a critical time for the pine marten in Wales as the species stands on a knife-edge. This project represents a chance to help ensure that this iconic species will once again be a symbol of our Welsh woodlands.

It will take time to re-establish a pine marten population in mid Wales and we risk losing our red squirrels if we stand by and wait for this natural order to be restored.

In the meantime, we need to maintain a sustained programme of grey squirrel control to strengthen the red squirrel population in mid Wales so that, a few years down the line, the reds will have become resilient enough to withstand some predation from pine martens whilst benefitting from a reduction in the grey population