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Pine marten (Martes martes)

This elusive woodland predator is making a comeback, with a little help from us.

Scientific name: Martes martes

Family: Mustelidae

Appearance

Pine Martens are mustelids (members of the weasel family) and have the long, slender body that is typical of this group. They have dark brown fur, with a white/yellow throat patch and bushy tail. Weighing 1-2kg and 60-70cm long, they are about the size of a small cat.

Where and how to spot

Once found across the UK, hunting and the destruction of woodland meant that by the 20th century, pine martens only survived in the Scottish Highlands and tiny areas of Wales and northern England. Now legally protected, the species is expanding its range in Scotland, but remains very rare in England and Wales. However, there are some encouraging signs. Martens have recently been spotted in Shropshire, Northumberland and Yorkshire, and the Woodland Trust is supporting a restoration programme in Wales (you can find out the latest on the project here). It is hoped that a restoration project in the Forest of Dean will go ahead in the near future, further strengthening the pine marten population outside of Scotland.

Woodland is prime pine marten habitat and the species spends much of its time in trees. Shy and primarily nocturnal, it is challenging to spot without a huge stroke of luck. Coed Hafod y Llyn in Wales and Glen Devon Woodlands in Scotland are two of our sites where martens can be found.

Feeding

Pine Martens will hunt a range of small mammals including voles, rabbits and hares. They will also take birds and their eggs, as well as berries. Research has suggested the presence of pine martens can be beneficial for the endangered red squirrel. This is because predation by martens has been found to suppress the population of non-native grey squirrels, which outcompete and spread disease to the native reds.

Behaviour and breeding

Martens live a solitary existence, only coming together to mate. Typically, a litter of three young, known as kits, will be born in spring, becoming independent around six months later. Martens spend a lot of time in trees, often sleeping and raising their young in tree cavities, meaning ancient woodland is an ideal habitat. However, the majority of hunting is thought to take place on the ground.

Threats

Pine martens may be illegally killed due to predation of gamebirds, or caught in traps meant for other species such as foxes.

Did you know?

  • Male pine martens may require 200ha of woodland for their territory.
  • Pine martens can be found throughout Europe, western Russia and parts of the Middle East.
  • There are eight species of marten across the world, including the sable, which is famed for its fur, and the fisher, which can reach a weight of 6kg!