The pine marten (Martes martes) was once found throughout Britain. However the species is particularly susceptible to persecution and, in the 19th century, it suffered one of the most dramatic declines of any UK mammal. By the turn of the 20th century, the once widespread distribution was reduced substantially to relict populations limited to North West Scotland, where the species survived in areas of remote forest and rocky moorland. In 1988, the species was given full legal protection.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the marten population has made a significant recovery with an expansion south and eastwards from the core areas in the Northwest Highlands. Martens are no longer confined to the Highlands (council area) and have now recolonised much of Moray, Perth & Kinross and Argyll & Bute, as well as parts of Aberdeenshire and Stirling. There is a small self-sustaining reintroduced population in Galloway. However, the species is still rare in the UK with population estimates ranging from 2,600 to around 3,500 adult martens in Scotland, and given the massive historic reduction in the range of the species, there is still considerable potential for the re-colonisation of areas which it formerly occupied. Further expansion is therefore likely unless limited by other factors, such as illegal persecution.
Although martens are not confined to woodland, each animal requires between 86 and 166ha of woodland within its territory. Extensive mature conifer plantations provide martens with plenty of cover and radio tracking studies have shown that they spend a large part of their time in such areas – significantly more time than in open new plantations and thicket-stage plantations. The observed avoidance of open ground may be related to the increased risk of predation in such areas. On balance, pine martens are likely to have benefited from the expansion of commercial conifer forestry in Scotland during the 20th century.
Conservation and management
In some parts of Scotland, martens have adopted buildings (including the roof-spaces of occupied houses) for breeding, because of their particularly good insulative properties and this can lead to problems with the human occupants. Where the animals are welcome, but not actually in the house itself, specially designed breeding boxes can be erected on trees nearby to provide alternative accommodation. Martens may also come into conflict with human interests where they gain access to chicken coupes and pheasant release pens. See the Licensing Pages for more information on the legal mechanism that is available for dealing with this. Likewise, see these pages where there is evidence of a significant negative impact (by martens) on a vulnerable wild bird species at the population level.