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.
Pine martens are an arboreal hunter. It is native to Europe, stretching into Asia in areas such as Iran and Syria. It is also a native part of the UK ecosystem. Unfortunately, as an arboreal predator the pine marten was horrifically reduced in the UK by the destruction of our rainforests. What few animals continued to survive in fragments of forest left behind, have been persecuted by farmers for their habits of taking chickens and similar animals.
This is why this sighting of a pine marten on the edge of London is so exciting.
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.
Pine martens are an important part of the UK ecosystem. Indeed, it is only through their absence that the grey squirrel was able to get a foothold. Might this pine marten group return to save the red squirrel and remove the grey?
This video was filmed a few months ago
Pine martens are very good for the UK. It is the reason that red squirrels are so acrobatic – it is the only way to avoid this arboreal predator.
It is not thought that this population can be large, but its size is being studied.
If they are given the space to survive and thrive (it is probably necessary to translocate a few more) they could be really good for the forest.
Grey squirrels only arrived in the new forest in 1940s, and if this arboreal predator gets fully re-established, it is likely that the grey squirrel will disappear once again. This would then allow the return of the red squirrel. There is a red squirrel colony on Brownsea island, which is likely to benefit from the pine martens return, as they will greatly reduce grey squirrels in the area.
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.
Spending more time on the ground, and being far less agile than their red smaller cousins, grey squirrels cannot coexist with pine martens.