Second article: Volunteers help with the return of the pine marten to Wales
Volunteers help with the return of the pine marten to Wales
In early autumn of this year, The Vincent Wildlife Trust was back in Scotland trapping pine martens for relocation to Wales – the third and final translocation as part of the Trust’s ‘Pine Marten Recovery Project’. Between September and October, twelve martens were selected for release in Wales, bringing the total number of animals translocated since 2015 to 51.
For decades, The Vincent Wildlife, a mammal conservation charity, has been studying pine martens in Britain, looking for evidence of their survival. When it became clear that they were functionally extinct across southern Britain, the Trust decided that a course of action wasneeded. In 2015, the Trust took a significant step in improving the fortunes of the pine marten in Wales. Under the leadership of Dr Jenny Macpherson, and after much careful research and planning, together with regular engagement with the local community, the Trust began a programme to restore this native mammal to Wales by bringing martens from Scotland to bolster any local relict marten population. And it worked! Today, in mid-Wales, we once again have a breeding pine marten population. The Trust carefully selected suitable areas of habitat, and each autumn released a number of animals and then monitored them daily using radio-tracking technology. For the last two years several of the female martens have given birth and this has been incredibly exciting for the team and a real sign of success.
“We are increasingly receiving sightings where people report encounters with the released pine martens; unexpected, and enchanting. It grounds the pine martens reestablishment as something tangible and real and highlights something equally as important as the science, the research, and the ecological theory: the fact that something wonderful and wild has returned to Wales, enriching the landscape and spreading a hopeful message that what is endangered, damaged or lost can be recovered with expertise, willpower and the support of local communities” David Bavin, Pine Marten Field Officer.
To ensure the long-term goal of a self-sustaining population, we need to continue to monitor the, now radio-collarless, martens. To achieve this we are hoping to maintain interest in the project beyond the translocations, by working with local schools and universities, working with local landowners and shoots and encouraging ecotourism related to martens. Most importantly we want the local community to take ownership in where the project goes as we move forward.
In the extract from a VWT article below, Josie Bridges, Community Engagement Officer with the pine marten project, explains where the Trust is now with its pine marten work and the important role volunteers are playing in the success of this project:
‘We have had an amazing core group of local volunteers over the last few years who have been integral to the success of the translocation. They have been out radio-tracking with us every day (in all weathers!), have built release pens, raised our morale in the middle of the night whilst we're struggling to find martens, and even lent us their dogs to help detect marten scat. One of our long serving (suffering?) volunteers is a glutton for punishment and is now employed by us as our full-time Field Assistant. Over the next few years we are hoping to really expand our volunteer base and get many more people out there and trained to look for martens through scat surveys, camera traps and den box surveys. Some of our volunteers have gone above and beyond their normal volunteering by helping us with our camera traps. Cameras are a great way to keep track of the animals once they have had their collars removed, and having volunteers tasked with checking their 'local' marten’s camera every week has been an enormous help. Some of our most far flung individuals could be a four-hour round trip for us to check and so we would be limited in the amount of times we could check it. Our volunteers’ hard work, along with the many photos and sightings we are now regularly getting in from the public, has encouraged us to start a camera trap loan scheme where we lend out cameras to people who may have martens in their area. They then report back if and when they have a marten come to their camera and we can ID it for them. This will help us widen the area that we can be surveying for our now collarless animals.
Whilst knowing exactly what each of our martens is up to individually is less important now as we are moving into surveying the population as a whole, it is still useful to know who is who on the cameras. Not least because it allows us to know if any new kits turn up on any footage. So how do we tell them apart? Each marten has a unique bib that has a unique, individual pattern of spots and freckles. We take note of this pattern when the animal is under anaesthetic as part of the translocation process so we can then compare it to later footage.
We then use a simple bit of kit called a 'jiggler' (a long piece of flexible wire with a tea infuser filled with peanut butter at the end that the martens 'meerkat' up towards). This gives us a nice clear photo of a marten’s bib. The peanut butter can sometimes attract unwanted visitors though who can cause havoc by running off with the tea strainer. Occasionally you can't tell who is who on the cameras from the bibs so we have to turn to DNA collected from hair tubes. This is particularly useful for identifying our increasing numbers of kits for whom, of course, we don't have bib shots. A hair tube is a section of drain pipe with bait wired into the top and sticky patches attached to the bottom that the marten has to wiggle past to get to the bait (hopefully), leaving behind a few strands of hair that we can then send for DNA analysis. We are also having some success with using adapted squirrel feeders to collect hair samples, but this has come with its own problems; our martens find them very attractive and quite often photo-bomb the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project feeders! PM16 and her three almost grown kits from this year have taken a particular liking to the free peanuts on offer. Some of our animals are much easier to keep track of than others post collar removal and this has led to one of our most charismatic martens, PM07, being adopted by Chester Zoo. We now regularly send clips that we gather to the Zoo for them to share on their social media and help us spread awareness of the project and martens in general.
With only 12 martens to radio-track this year, it feels very relaxed compared with the first two years of the translocation. But with big scat surveys, den box refurbishment and potentially the building of a pine marten viewing hide in the future, I'm sure it won't stay quiet for long!’
You can find out more about the Trust’s Pine Marten Recovery Project
and any opportunities for volunteering at
Hilary Macmillan, Communications Manager The Vincent Wildlife Trust