Description: The European pine marten has light to dark brown fur which is short and coarse in the summer, growing longer and silkier during the winter. It has a cream/yellow coloured “bib” marking on its throat and chest and a long tail. Similar in appearance to stoats and weasels, but much larger and with more pronounced ears and a long bushy tail.
Size: Length 65-85 cm
Weight: 1.5-1.7 kg, with males being slightly larger and heavier than females.
Lifespan: On average, wild pine martens live for 4-5 years, but they have been known to live for 11. In captivity, a marten could live until the late teens.
Breeding: Mating takes place in late summer/early autumn, but the egg does not implant in the uterus until the following spring and 1-5 kits are born after a 1-month gestation period.
Habitat: Pine martens are perfectly adapted to an arboreal lifestyle but can also inhabit rocky crags and buildings in some areas. They are found inhabiting both coniferous and deciduous woodland in Shropshire.
Diet: Opportunists, pine martens will feed mainly on the most easily accessible food source. Voles and mice and small birds are hunted throughout the year, but during autumn months, nuts, berries and herbaceous plants make up the majority of their diet.
General Ecology: Males occupy a larger territory than females- up to 16km2 in suitable habitat. In Shropshire, their home range is likely to be impacted by the fragmentation of woodland. For much of the year, pine martens move around their territory to find suitable den sites and food and will use a variety of places as overnight dens, from hollow trees to disused squirrel drays and raptor nests.
Distribution and main sites: At least 18 individual pine martens have been recorded on camera traps in Shropshire. One of those records was confirmed to be of an animal which had been released in the Forest of Dean in 2019 by Gloucester Wildlife Trust. The woodlands around Clun and The Stiperstones appear to be the stronghold of the population.
Local Survey history: Shropshire Pine Marten Project began investigating unverified historic pine marten records in 2009 and successfully recorded the first pine martens in the county on camera trap in July 2015. The last verified pine marten record in the county had dated back to 1893 (Flora and Fauna of Shropshire).
Conservation Status: Once considered to be extinct in England, pine martens have slowly spread from their stronghold in the Scottish Highlands into woodlands in Cumbria and Northumberland. Martens and their dens are fully protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981); martens must not be trapped, sold or disturbed except under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales or Natural England.
Threats: Despite their legal protection, poisoned baits and traps, often set for hooded crows and foxes, still probably account for many marten deaths each year. Others are shot at hen houses, and some are killed when mistaken for mink. In Shropshire, their expansion is limited by habitat fragmentation, lack of ancient trees with denning potential and risk of Road Traffic Accidents.
Action: Shropshire Wildlife Trust is working with landowners in south Shropshire to increase forestry cover and improve habitat connectivity. Over 50 pine marten den boxes have been installed at 4 study sites and are monitored for evidence of breeding.
Main recording methods: Camera traps have been the only reliable tool in monitoring pine martens in Shropshire. No verified field evidence has been located, even in areas with constant pine marten activity.
Did you know? Pine marten pelts were once highly prized and were worn as a symbol of wealth.
Text – Stuart Edmunds
Photographs – Top photo by Chas Moonie. Camera trap still by Stuart Edmunds.