Combined efforts to bring pine martens back to the Forest of Dean have just reached a major milestone – a number of recently released females have given birth to offspring.
The project is the first formal reintroduction in England and aims to boost the recovery of pine martens in this country, led by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Forestry England, with support from Vincent Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust and Forest Research.
Extensive hunting and loss of woodlands over the last two centuries had resulted in near extinction of the pine marten in England. Pushed to the more remote parts of the UK, they became Britain’s second-rarest native carnivore, with their only remaining stronghold the North-West Highlands of Scotland. Since then the population has begun to recover well in Scotland, but has not yet made such a come-back in England.
In September 2019, the project team released 18 pine martens translocated from Scotland to the Forest of Dean, and thanks to around-the-clock radio tracking and trail camera monitoring, the team now know that at least three of the females have given birth this spring.
Dr Cat McNicol, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Projects Manager says: “This is hugely reassuring for us and a major success factor for the project. The fact that some females have given birth suggests the conditions in the forest are as good as we had hoped. There seems to have been plenty of food available for them through winter and there are lots of great denning sites for the females to give birth and raise kits in, such as old beech trees full of hollows and mature conifers with cracks and cavities out of reach.”
Pine martens mate in the summer months but then delay their pregnancy until spring when conditions are right. They do not necessarily breed every year, which is one of the contributing factors to their slow recovery from Scotland back into England and Wales.
Most pine martens give birth to around 2-3 kits. At about 6 weeks old the kits have their eyes open and start being weaned off milk onto solid food. Females bring prey such as voles, mice and small birds back to the den site to feed the kits.