Landowners and land managers have been asked for their views on proposals to increase pine marten populations around the Tweed Valley in order to address grey squirrel numbers in the area.
At a meeting held at Torwoodlee & Buckholm Estates, Galashiels, Professor Xavier Lambin of the University of Aberdeen outlined proposals that would see pine marten numbers increased within the Tweed Valley Forest Park.
Pine martens are cat sized members of the weasel family, with long bodies covered with dark brown fur with a large white throat patch. They are native to Scotland and generally prefer to live in native woodlands.
By reinforcing the pine marten population to a sufficient density, it is hoped that the species can act as a biological control on grey squirrels, saving human time, effort and money and thus increasing the life prospects of our native, and much loved, red squirrel. This builds on similar research work conducted in Ireland.
Professor Lambin is currently developing a bid to the Natural Environment Research Council for a four-year, £800,000 project focusing on the ecological interactions between martens, squirrels and the pox virus. The bid will be submitted in January 2017 and, if successful, a population reinforcement experiment could start in 2018.
Karen Ramoo, Policy Officer (Conservation & Wildlife Management) at Scottish Land & Estates, which represents land-businesses across Scotland, said: “Our appreciation goes to Professor Lambin for taking the time to address landowners, conservation organisations and other rural professionals about his proposal and it was a worthwhile meeting that allowed a range of views to be expressed.
“There is some apprehension around the return of the pine marten. Pine martens are predators and, although they have a strong preference for field voles, they will occasionally take things that are important to the rural economy and to conservation efforts, such as ground-nesting bird eggs, chicks and occasionally adults. Similarly, they can take buzzards, goshawks, owls and even crested tits.
“The project has the potential to be a game-changer in nature conservation and forest management but it remains legitimate to wonder under what circumstances the benefits of recovering pine martens will exceed costs experienced by various sections of the land management community.
“Scottish Land & Estates was happy to assist in coordinating the meeting and facilitating discussion on this important topic. We would encourage those with an interest in this issue to make their views known.”