Wildlife Returns to Forests
By Dr Jenny MacPherson, Manager at Vincent Wildlife Trust, first published in FSC UK’s magazine Forest Matters (March 2017 issue).
In Wales, an extremely rare, nocturnal member of the weasel family has bounced back from the brink of extinction thanks to translocations to FSC-certified woodlands managed by Natural Resources Wales.
The pine marten is the second rarest carnivore in Britain and viewed as a priority species for conservation efforts in Wales and Scotland. This small population is now on the road to recovery: at least four of the translocated female pine martens had given birth by the spring of 2016, marking a victory for conservationists.
The Vincent Wildlife Trust, a charity working on British and Irish mammal conservation, conducted research and surveys on pine martens for thirty years and determined that action was urgently needed to prevent the complete extinction of the pine marten. So, in the autumn of 2015, twenty pine martens were translocated from stronger populations in Scotland to a large, FSC-certified expanse of woodland in central Wales. A further nineteen were released into the same area the following year. All of the animals have been radio-tracked and monitored after release.
Martens are slow breeders: they do not usually mate until they are two or three years old and then have only one litter per year, of usually one or two offspring. The fact that these animals bred in their first year in Wales shows that they have found enough resources to support them in their newly established territories.
This could also be good news for the declining population of native red squirrels, a species which has suffered due to the presence of invasive grey squirrels. Recent research has shown that pine martens are likely to feast on grey squirrels when they are present. In parts of Ireland, where martens are spreading, there has been a decline in grey squirrels and the native red squirrel has begun to recover. There have also been reports of a similar effect observed in Scotland.
Extensive and diverse woodland that is suitable for pine martens is likely to benefit a wide range of other species and prove more resilient to changing environmental conditions. Fortunately, many forest management plans, including those that meet the requirements of FSC, now aim to increase species diversity to promote the sustainability of forest ecosystems. These developments in forestry should be beneficial for pine martens in terms of habitat, increased food availability and breeding locations.