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Habitat requirements and ecology

Pine martens are largely solitary and normally exclude members of the same sex from their home ranges. Home range size varies widely according to habitat. In Britain a single male home range can vary from 33km² in upland spruce to 3km² in more productive, lowland woodland. For females this is smaller, from 10km² to just under 1km² in these habitats. This means that many woodlands will not be large enough to sustain a viable population of pine martens.

Pine martens rarely excavate their own dens, preferring existing cavities in tree holes, squirrel dreys or rock crevices. As foxes are known to catch and kill martens, these above ground sites are thought to be essential in avoiding such predation.

Pine martens are carnivores, but they eat a variety of foods, including small mammals, birds and their eggs, carrion, invertebrates, fruits and nuts.


Pine martens and grey squirrels

A study in 2014 in the Irish midlands found that grey squirrels were absent from woodlands where pine martens were present at high densities, leading to the suggestion that pine martens may have a negative effect on grey squirrels. However, further research was needed to determine if this is a causal relationship and whether it is unique to Ireland, where pine martens occur at much higher densities than elsewhere and where there are fewer prey species present.

A recent paper by Sheehy et al (2018) reports on a study in Scotland which found that, where pine marten recovery is more advanced (ie martens have been present for more than 45 years and at relatively high densities), the native red squirrel now occupies a greater portion of the landscape than non-native grey squirrels. Despite uncertainty on whether the return of the pine marten will ultimately lead to the extirpation or suppression of grey squirrel abundance, it is suggested that it will likely profoundly alter the overall competitive interaction between the two squirrel species through potential impacts on squirrel pox dynamics.


Pine martens and the law

Pine Martens are legally protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which in Scotland is amended by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. Under this legislation it is an offence to intentionally kill, injure or take a wild pine marten; or to possess or control, sell, offer for sale or possess, or transport for the purpose of sale, any live or dead wild pine marten.


Pine marten translocations

Any proposed translocation of pine martens must be considered very carefully and comply with IUCN guidelines on translocations, whether for re-introduction or reinforcement (re-stocking). The importance of animal welfare and health screening is emphasised in these guidelines, as is the requirement for a detailed ecological assessment to maintain favourable conservation status of this protected species.


Useful links

Download the ‘Advice note: Release of pine martens into the wild in Britain’ PDF.

IUCN/SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group website

Scottish Natural Heritage website

Red squirrels and pine martens – Blog by Jim Dixon