Before humans started cutting down the forests of the UK, the pine marten was likely one of the most common carnivores in the UK. This voracious arboreal hunter is the reason that our resident squirrel is so acrobatic – these skills would likely be tested every day.
Indeed, pine martens are less widely spread in the USA which is likely one of the reasons that grey squirrels are so incapable of surviving alongside pine martens. Thus, in the UK we have this perverse situation within the UK, where the only refuge of the red squirrel (apart from small islands which can be cleared more easily) are areas of the country where pine martens also survive on.
In the UK, it has been long known that pine martens survive in Scotland. Protection of their forests must improve if we are to hold onto them for longer.
Food sources in conifer plantations tend to be smaller, limited to small cones and such like. As such, this suited the smaller red squirrel more than the invasive grey. However this has recently been thrown into doubt.
Where as, in broadleaf tree plantations there are a variety of food sources for pine martens and so red squirrels will not be exclusively predated, in conifer forests with less food to find red squirrels are hunted more often.
This research is based on 5 years of observations from the public and camera traps. It was carried out in northern Ireland, and looked at pine martens red and grey squirrels.
In natural woodlands there is a diverse range of prey and plenty of refuges for red squirrels, however in conifer plantations pine martens will eat far more squirrels because there is little else for it to find.
We therefore need to stop replacing large areas of natural wood with plantations.
If this is true, then the pine marten has even more pressure on it, as it must drive the grey squirrel out so reds can survive. A recent study of grey squirrels dna shows that the UK population relies far more on humans. Far from colonising the country they appear to have been moved by humans and installed in new parts of the country on many occasion. One example, showed this by the fact that the grey squirrels around Aberdeen appear to have originated with the population around the new forest.
Despite the fact that British citizens have done much good work towards to conservation of wildlife and wilderness in the world, we have been less successful in the UK. Having largely eradicated a small arboreal predator from much of the UK, we then decided to introduce the grey squirrel from the USA.
Bangor pine marten – 4 were reintroduced a year ago, and seem to be doing well
Spending more time on the ground, and being far less agile than their red smaller cousins, grey squirrels cannot coexist with pine martens.
The Forest of Dean is perhaps one of the biggest and healthiest woodlands within the UK.
Part of this is down to its significant population of wild boar.
Before humans hunted wild boar to extinction, they were a highly important part of our ecosystem, and generally woodlands in the UK show their absence.
What do I mean? One of the benefits of wild boar is that their rooting behavior. While humans often do not like this, as this rooting behavior can destroy gardens or picturesque roundabouts, areas that have had this treatment are perfect for trees to germinate and start to grow.
Indeed we were astounded walking around the forest to see so many small copses of new tree nurseries. In this sense wild boar fulfill a similar niche of being ecosystem engineers as beavers in rivers.
Apart from the boar, there is a healthy population of deer. Roe deer exist here naturally. Fallow deer were introduced by the Normans and this is the most common species to see. In recent years Muntjac deer have also recently become established and are fascinating. There are a small number of red deer that still exist though seeing these is a lucky day.
Adult rooting with boarlets (or as some call them Humbugs)
One of the big advantages of boar presence is a reduction of ground cover
Wild boar are surprisingly large animals and we have had a couple of encounters with them on our visits.
The best way to spot them is by driving some of the back roads in the early evening.
I have once spotted a family from the car, and this year two boar ran past while we were walking a forest path.
Both were in a similar location. I will put together a page of information that will be sent with any booking made from the accommodation further down the page, or I can provide just this information for £10 if you have found a place to stay elsewhere.
The Forest of Dean is a truly wild woodland. While it is scattered with villages and towns, this is the only place I have seen beetles actually behaving as dung beetles, in the UK.
The government has also started a process of translocating pine martens to the area, and while the animal is shy, signs of its presence will increase over the next few years. If the translocation is successful, then it will also slowly remove the grey squirrels from this wood, which apart from being good for the health of the trees, will allow red squirrels to recolonize.
Visiting a place like this allows you to hunt for signs of the animals such as tracks, as well as spotting the actual animal itself.
Boar are highly intelligent, and fascinating to see. Care should be taken as they can be dangerous, particularly when they have young.
Places to stay
Below is a variety of lodgings which are close to wild parts of the forest. There is also a link to search all accommodation available within the forest of dean. Any bookings support the work of the site. The places we have listed are close to where we have had our sightings, however boar are found throughout the forest so do not feel restricted to just the places we listed.
Campsites will be listed below the hotels.
Link to search all available lodgings listed on booking.com throughout the Forest of Dean
Inglewood House Monmouth, prices from £90
Demense Farm Guesthouse, monmouth, prices from £122
Raglan Lodge, Monmouth, prices from £40
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