Quest for the pine marten

James McConnell – NatureSpy Wildlife Biologist

Quest for the Yorkshire Pine MartenCamera trapping for pine marten in the North York Moors has been something I’ve wanted to attempt with NatureSpy for a long time.

Though the chances are slim, if one of our cameras does manage to capture a video or picture of this elusive carnivore it will be a fantastic result.

However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves – pine marten may not actually be in the North York Moors at all.

Their presence has only recently been confirmed further north in Northumberland via a DNA test on a scat, but there has never been a picture.

In fact, as far as I can research, there has only been one picture of a pine marten in England, from Staffordshire in 2004. All other evidence of their existence is from accumulative sightings and the occasional road casualty.

Pine marten once existed throughout the UK, but woodland clearance coupled with hunting for their fur lead to dramatic declines, and by 1915 the only strong populations were in the Scottish Highlands.

It is possible some remnant populations remained in northern England, but in very low numbers. Today, populations are expanding south from the Highlands and it is thought that any pine martens living in England now are a result of this expansion.

The last unequivocal record of a pine marten in the North York Moors came in 1993 – some twenty years ago – when a dead marten was discovered.

It seems that our cameras, deep in a forest in a secret area of the Moors, are looking for a needle in a haystack.

What’s more, they have to wait for the needle to come to them.

Pine marten by Chas Moonie

Image; Chas Moonie

To boost our chances (however slim they are) we have placed some tasty pine marten treats in front of the cameras – honey and peanut butter. With these martens being arboreal, we have to tempt them down from the trees and I hope these snacks do the trick.

We also have to thank the Forestry Commission and the Vincent Wildlife Trust for their help and advice prior to the project starting.

This quest for the pine marten does feel exciting. Checking these traps, and the other places we’ll be monitoring over the summer, will be exhilarating.

I don’t expect to find a pine marten, but that makes the prospect of finding one all the sweeter.

Keep up to date on the project’s homepage.

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