"Don't mess with me, buster!"
The pine marten was persecuted to near extinction over most of the UK during the 19th century. There has since been a gradual recovery, assisted by Schedue 5 protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and hence increasingly frequent anecdotal sightings, including a suspected den at Hesleyside. Recent interest has been greatly increased with evidence that their predation on squirrels, in mixed red-grey populations, is greatly to the advantage of reds, i.e. grey squirrels diminish with little effect on reds (described in the Research section). We now have a recent trail camera image from one of our colleagues monitoring in Kielder Forest, thanks to John Hartshorne of Albion Outdoors - Fieldwork and Ecology.
Pine martins are quite secretive and largely nocturnal. Typically, they're found in woodland but may appear in gardens, attracted by bird feeders. Their diet is wide ranging and opportunistic, voles, birds and squirrels, but also fruit and nuts; they have a sweet tooth and will not pass by a strawberry jam sandwich.
Trail camera image of a pine marten in Kielder Forest.
This is a gas-operated, automatically resetting kill trap developed in New Zealand. UK approval has recently been granted, but the approval order has yet to come into force, anticipated for this autumn.
The trap contains a lure and a pressurised gas cannister which activates the despatch mechanism, automatically resetting for eighteen cycles. It has been shown to be extremely efficient but is unable to discriminate between greys and reds, so can only be used in areas having no red squirrels. There is also anecdotal evidence that some other species, notably hedgehogs, may be vulnerable. So, as always, siting is important.
Caveats accepted, this could provide a huge staffing cost saving in environments where grey squirrel control is essential, say in nut orchards or vulnerable broad leaf plantations (https://goodnaturetraps.co.uk/).
The Goodnature A18 Grey Squirrel Trap
The National Forest is the first forest to be planted in England for over 1000 years. It was started some 25 years ago as more a vision than a plan, to cover a large area left desolate and scarred by industry with a public forest. Since then it has become a reality, spanning 200 square miles of the Midlands, including parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire and aiming to link the two ancient Forests of Charnwood and Needwood. 8.7 million trees of native woodland species have since been planted.
In 2016 an assessment of grey squirrel damage in the Forest, over an area of 500ha of mixed species trees in the age range 15-25 years, showed damage to 50% of them, leaving little of potential value in some areas. Oak and field maple were hardest hit but other species, sweet chestnut, birch and willow took significant damage.
The Red Squirrel Survival Trust has announced funding for the Red Squirrel Trust Wales to investigate genetic changes in isolated red squirrel populations that have suffered frequent outbreaks of squirrel pox. This is important for two reasons: first is that loss of genetic variability may lead to an overall weakness that could cause problems in the future. The second is that the survivors may show evidence of increased resistance to squirrel pox. It is hard to say how this might assist red survival, as is always the case with research, but certainly it will provide important information that is currently lacking.
North East Red Squirrels have been awarded £59.9k for a two year project directed towards assisting the return of red squirrels to land to the north of the South Tyne and extending westwards to the North Tyne. They have already achieved significant success in clearing greys and allowing reds to return in a wide area around Newcastle. They're confidant that the skills and momentum developed will transfer into the community support they regard as an essential component in this welcome development.