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Issue 15 - Scottish resident with a sweet tooth

Scotland Magazine Issue 15
July 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Scottish resident with a sweet tooth

Pine martens used to be common but not any more. Graham Holliday goes in search of the elusive distant relative of the stoats and weasel

The Pine marten, with its distinctive cream coloured throat, was once widespread throughout Britain. As a result of deforestation, hunting and persecution, numbers of this carnivorous mammal were severely decimated by the beginning of the 20th century. It is now confined to the forested areas of the north and west of Scotland with only small populations in north Wales and northern England.

It is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, meaning it cannot be trapped, disturbed or sold without a special licence. However, on occasion they are still caught in traps intended for crows and foxes. In recent times the pine marten population has increased significantly due to the growth in commercial forestry and the regeneration of native woodland.

Wildlife spotters now have a good chance of seeing pine martens in the wild. Good places to head for include Sunart Oakwoods, near Loch Sunart, Kilmichael Forest in Argyll and Bute and Glen Affric in the Highlands.

The mixed woodland and oakwood of Sunart Oakwoods is managed by the Forestry Commission Scotland and private owners and provides a perfect home for pine martens. The ground was previously planted with conifers, but with the support of the local community the conifers are being removed and the oakwood habitat restored. The project started in 1992 and is set to run until 2005.

“Pine martens are abundant locally, but as with most wildlife you would be lucky to spot one just on a walk – although it does happen,” says Jamie McIntyre,project manager at Sunart Oakwoods Initiative.

“The best chance of seeing one is through someone who has them coming to their house.” Eilidh-Ann Madden works as a Highland Council ranger in Sunart Oakwoods and occasionally holds pine marten watches during the summer.

“Evening is the best time to see them,” says Madden. “If food is readily available they will come out in the middle of the day. They have really latched on to the fact that humans nowadays mean food and have developed a particularly sweet tooth.

“Raspberry jam, raisins and fruit cake are popular with pine martens to name but a few.” The pine marten, which is about the size of a cat, is a relative of the weasel, badger and stoat. It is covered in short, dark brown fur which thickens up during the winter.

It is most active during the night. It is one of the only predators that can catch red squirrels by darting through the trees as it chases them.

It has few enemies apart from humans, though golden eagles and foxes are known to eat it. Its main diet consists of small mammals including voles, insects, carrion, amphibians and birds such as treecreepers and capercaillie chicks. In the summer it will also feed on honey, caterpillars and fruits, particularly blaeberry. If the blaeberry season is a good one, the fruits can make up to 30 per cent of its diet. Blue pine marten droppings are a sure sign of a recent blueberry feast.

For more information on pine martens:

Mammals Trust UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7498 5262

Places to see pine martens and further information:

Kilmichael Forest, Argyll and Bute:
Lochgilphead is the nearest town or village. The main forest of Kilmichael covers over 30 square miles between Lochgilphead and Minard.

How to get there:
From Glasgow – Follow the A82 to Tarbert then the A83 through Inveraray to Minard and Lochgilphead. From Oban – Follow the A816 to Lochgilphead then the A83 towards Minard.

Community & Conservation Ranger
Tel: +44 (0)1546 602 518

Glen Affric, Highlands:
Cannich, Tomich, Struy, Beauly, Drumnadrochit, Balnain and Inverness are the nearest towns or villages. There are several walks into the core pine reserve.

Pine martens are difficult to see during the day, but they visit the picnic area at Dog Falls at night to 'clear up' anything left on the picnic tables.

How to get there:
From either Beauly or Drumnadrochit, take the A831 to Cannich, then the unclassified road through Cannich which is signposted Glen Affric. After two miles, at the Fasnakyle power station, turn right up to Glen Affric. Dog Falls carpark is a further two and a half miles along.

Recreation Ranger
Tel: +44 (0)1320 366 322

Sunart Oakwoods:
Loch Sunart and the surrounding woodlands are home to otter and pine marten. There is a wildlife hide with views of a heronry. Golden and white-tailed eagles also frequent the area.

How to get there:
From the A82 use the Corran Ferry to cross to Ardgour. Follow the signs to Strontian on the A861. Strontian is the first village in the oakwood area from the East. Acharacle is the first village from the North.

Tel: +44 (0)1967 402232

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