As sensationally announced on Springwatch last night (Tuesday 31 May), three of the 10 female pine martens translocated to Wales last year have given birth to kits – at least five between them.
Twenty adult pine martens – relatives of stoats, weasels, otters and badgers about the size of a domestic cat – were brought down from Scotland last autumn and released into 1,200ha of woodlands in the Cambrian Mountains of mid-Wales.
Pine martens mate in July and August, but have ‘delayed implantation’, so that the females don’t actually become pregnant until the following year.
“When we moved the pine martens, our hope was that some of the females would have mated, but it was a bit uncertain what would happen,” said Lizzie Croose, mustelid conservation officer for the Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), one of the organisations involved in a project that aims to bring the species back to Wales.
Evidence of the new arrivals has been obtained from remote cameras located at nestboxes being used by female pine martens.
Naturalist and TV presenter Iolo Williams said it was great news. “I dream of the day when I will walk the woodlands of Wales and see a pine marten in the wild,” he added.
The VWT, and the other organisations involved in the Pine Marten Recovery Project – the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Chester Zoo and the Woodland Trust, with support from Wildlife Vets International and Exeter University – now hopes that pine martens can spread across a much wider area of Wales.
“There’s a fairly continuous chain of woodlands from south to north Wales, and we’re hoping they will move through them, and eventually east into the English-Welsh border area,” said Croose.
“They will be limited by the lack of woodland in some areas – in the upland and moorland areas of North Wales, for example,” she added.
And pine martens are slow breeders, she warned, and it will many years for them to spread.
Of the 20 translocated animals, six have so far died – two from predation by foxes and dogs, two from fungal infections and two are awaiting post mortems. The project is bringing down a further 20 from Scotland later this year, and “this should result in a self-sustaining population across Wales”, it says.
As well as simply bringing the pine marten back to Wales, part of the project’s aims is to investigate the species’ impact on grey squirrels.
A previous study carried out in Ireland has established that pine martens predate greys more than reds, and so help our native squirrels recolonise areas they are absent from by reducing numbers of the non-native species.