Pine Martens Protect Red Squirrels
The Scottish government agency Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) are hoping that they can encourage pine martens to thrive along the east coast of Scotland in a bid to protect red squirrels.
The idea is to introduce pine martens to habitats in eastern Scotland where they can hopefully thrive and deter grey squirrels from moving into those areas. Grey squirrels are an invasive species, not native to the UK. They were introduced from North America in the 19th century and have spread rapidly and are common across the UK. Their success is at the detriment to the smaller native red squirrel.
Invasive grey squirrels
Grey squirrels are larger than the native red squirrels. The grey’s take their smaller cousin’s food, and also carry squirrel-pox, a virus that does not affect them but can be severe for red squirrels.
The idea behind introducing pine martens is that they will hunt the grey squirrels and thus prevent them from becoming too widespread within the areas that the pine martens are present. Pine martens are related to ferrets, otters, polecats and weasels and are one of the UK’s rarest meat-eating mammals.
Rare pine martens
Pine martens are relatively rare in the UK. Their numbers declined due to hunting and loss of habitat. A century ago, very few were left, however their numbers are starting to improve in some parts of the UK where they have been reintroduced in several areas.
The pine martens hunt grey squirrels as the grey’s spend more time than the red squirrels on the ground. Red squirrels spend more time in trees and have lived alongside pine martens so are aware of the danger and move quicker to avoid them.
The FLS hope that the presence of pine martens will naturally stop the grey squirrels from invading the red squirrel’s habitats. They have distributed several artificial dens within the east coast region to encourage the pine martens to settle and breed.