Go down to the woods today and you may get a rare surprise

 

A A A

The search is being renewed this year for England's most elusive and enigmatic wild mammal, the pine marten.

The tree-dwelling carnivore, a larger relative of stoats and weasels, was thought by some to be extinct in England, although not in Scotland.

Yet research over several years by the Vincent Wildlife Trust indicates there are pine marten populations in England's more remote corners, as well as in parts of Wales, where the animal was also thought to be extinct.

Although there have been numerous reported sightings, accurate photographic evidence is still lacking, but last year the research effort was crowned with biological success when a dropping was found by a member of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust in Kidland Forest, which DNA analysis showed unequivocally came from a female pine marten. Now the search for the animals in the forest is to be stepped up, with five special nesting boxes being erected.

"The discovery of droppings near Kidland was stunning news, but we are still very much in the dark about the pine marten's status," said Tom Dearnley, the Forestry Commission ecologist for North-east England.

"If we can entice an animal to use one of the boxes, not only will it teach us more about the pine marten population in England, but it will also provide both a chance to study its behaviour and a place to rear young." A native mammal of Britain and Ireland, Martes martes is also related to mink, polecat, otter and badger. The animal sports a coat of rich brown fur which contrasts with a creamy-yellow "bib" on the throat and chest. Adults are similar in size to a small or medium-sized domestic cat, with males about a third larger than females.

The animal probably arrived in Britain and Ireland soon after the end of the last Ice Age, about 9,500 years ago. It would have been most numerous when Britain and Ireland had greater tree cover and it has been suggested that 6,500 years ago pine martens were the second most common carnivore in Britain. However, it had been persecuted to extinction throughout much of Britain by the early part of the 20th century, with a solid population surviving only in Scotland. There, studies show that the animal is now recovering strongly, but the same is not happening with populations in England and Wales and the Vincent Wildlife Trust aims to find out why.

The research has now identified three English pine marten "hotspots" – the Lake District, the North York Moors and Northumberland, with a less important area in the Peak District in Staffordshire and four key areas in Wales, of which the two most important are Snowdonia and Camarthenshire.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific