The first Pine Marten (Martes martes) carcass in Wales since 1971 was found recently near Newtown, Powys, as roadkill. Although rare species killed on the road are always to be mourned, it represents an exciting find, as the best evidence in recent decades that the rare mustelid survives in Wales.
Around 6,000 years ago, the Pine Marten was one of the most abundant British carnivores, with an estimated population of almost 150,000. However, extensive habitat loss through deforestation, persecution (especially by gamekeepers), and trapping meant that by the end of the 19th century the species was confined to the more remote areas of the British Isles, especially north-west Scotland, with a total population of perhaps around a thousand.
Encouragingly, in the latter half of the 20th century the Pine Marten’s distribution has slowly increased across Scotland and Ireland. In the rest of the British Isles the story is different; there has been evidence of its occurrence in parts of Wales and Northern England, in the forms of sightings and possible scats (faeces), but these have been sporadic and not always reliable, and it is now certainly the rarest carnivore in England and Wales.
It is good news that unequivocal evidence of the animal’s presence in Wales has recently been found. Nonetheless, it seems that populations in England and Wales are so low as to be functionally extinct – in other words, the species will not form viable long-term populations in these areas without human intervention, or some other large change in external circumstances. The Vincent Wildlife Trust is currently doing much work developing a comprehensive conservation strategy for the Pine Marten, and this will hopefully lead to positive moves to work for its increase in Wales and England.
There is another benefit to this prospect; the Pine Marten is a specialist of mature native woodland, and heightened interest in protecting this attractive, iconic animal will place a higher premium on the conservation and increase of biodiverse woodlands in general. In the poorly forested UK, that has to be a good thing. Hopefully the interest in the corpse of this one creature may help to build momentum for conserving its live fellows and their habitats.