Nowadays the past main agent of pine marten decline (gamekeeping) is very much reduced. Moreover, modern gamekeepers and wildlife conservationists work together now and recognise the contributions each have to make to the management of the countryside. A Code of Practice for Gamekeepers has been developed by the organisations, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Game Conservancy Trust (GCT), and owes much to Codes of Practice already published by BASC.
Britain used to be one of the least wooded countries in Europe. However the establishment of the forestry Commission in 1918 and more recent re-forestation initiatives have gone far towards changing this situation.
Pine martens were present in small parts of northern England and north Wales earlier last century, but they did not spread back to formerly occupied areas. Conversely, in northern Scotland pine martens have slowly re-colonised areas previously inhabited.
Photo: copyright of Steve Carter
Research carried out by the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) suggested that pine martens survived in less than ideal areas in England not because they offered favourable habitats but because persecution pressure had been low in the past. They concluded that assuming that areas where a rare animal survives must be the best possible habitat for it is a common and potentially very damaging mistake. Despite 80 years during which woodland cover has increased and gamekeeper numbers have hugely decreased, pine martens have not re-colonised England or Wales. PTES states that this is because there are new factors in the environment reducing rates of colonisation and because pine martens are so slow to breed.
There is more urbanisation, habitat fragmentation in the lowlands and increased density of roads. Nevertheless, it appears that there are currently substantial regions of southern Britain suitable for occupation by pine martens. These are not likely to be reached by animals dispersing naturally. Pine marten populations only spread slowly; those re-introduced by the Forestry Commission to Galloway, south west Scotland, spread only 11 km in 15 years. This indicates the necessity for assistance with re-colonisation.
The closely related American martens have been successfully re-introduced to various areas in north America. This compelling evidence shows that re-introductions provide a very effective way of improving the conservation status of martens.