Last week, for the first time in 100 years, a confirmed sighting of a Pine Marten (Martes martes) in England was recorded. It was spotted in a forest in south-west Shropshire near the Wales border. A member of the Mustelidae family, which contains weasels and stoats, the animal was officially declared extinct in England in the 1990s. There exists, however, a strong population of about 4000 in Scotland, and a collection of small unsustainable populations in areas of Wales, mostly Snowdonia and mid-Wales. Although the location of the sighting is being kept a secret, it is thought to be about 30 miles form the Welsh border, and as Martens are known to travel up to 20km per day, according to Sarah Gibson of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, it is likely that this explorer is from Wales.
The decline of the Pine Marten in Britain was due to some of the usual suspects, including habitat loss and fragmentations, as well hunting them for fur and to prevent predation of game stocks. Threats still exist to them, with some the victims of poisoning intended for foxes and crows and shootings to protect livestock.
Pine Martens are mostly active during dusk and nighttime hours, hence why they are so difficult to observe. The area in which the sighting took place, however, is ideal habitat as there is minimal human presence and plenty of cover from the forest. The sighting itself was made by amateur wildlife recorder Dave Pearce, who took two photographs of the elusive mammal that can be found on the Shropshire Wildlife Trust page: http://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/pine-marten-appeal
The sighting confirms what many have suspected, but none have yet been able to prove about the presence of Pine Martens in England. There have been several reported sightings in England, but no conclusive evidence such as a photograph to back them up. It is an encouraging sign to see the return of once native species to England, and hopefully this will not be a unique occurrence. The sighting in fact coincides with establishment of the charity Rewilding Britain, which aims to reintroduce certain species that have been made extinct in the UK, with the overall goal to “bring about the mass restoration of ecosystems in Britain”. Major species to be introduced include beavers, wolves, wild boar and the lynx. A full list of species to be reintroduced and other information on the charity can be found on the website: http://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/
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