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  • Writer's pictureBecky Faulks

Pine Martens Return to the New Forest

Amid the global excitement over rewilding, a new development has come to light in the South of England. Conservationists have confirmed that pine martens, a species previously only thought to have survived in the North of England, have been sighted in Hampshire’s New Forest. A team from Forestry England, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and Wild New Forest will be studying them over the next year to find out more.

Credit: Forestry England

Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist at Forestry England said:

‘It is not often that we are able to talk about wildlife returning to landscapes and re-establishing their populations, so this is a really fascinating development to study. The New Forest is a unique landscape and a haven for wildlife, and through this work we hope to learn just what makes it such a good habitat for returning pine martens.’ 

Pine martens are a cat-sized member of the weasel family and were once widespread across the UK. However, due to human activity and habitat loss, their numbers have dwindled. They feed on small rodents, birds, insects and fruit, and prefer well-wooded areas with plenty of cover, which makes the New Forest an excellent place to get established – but that doesn’t mean they are easy to spot. Pine martens are nocturnal and notoriously shy, so the research team are having to make clever use of hidden cameras to study them.

Credit Forestry England

Joanne Gore, of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said:

'Pine marten should be part of the natural ecology of the south of England but persecution and habitat loss have decimated the population. However, tantalising records over the years have hinted that a population might indeed be once again present in the forest. The Trust are therefore pleased to be part of this joint project with Forestry England and Wild New Forest to establish presence and absence, across the New Forest, of this charismatic woodland species.'

They may be elusive, but if these little guys look familiar there could be a reason. Fans of His Dark Materials may recognise Pantalaimon – the daemon of main character Lyra – who settles as a pine marten at the end of the series. Pan’s appearance in the series is actually quite realistic; every pine marten is chestnut brown in colour but each has a uniquely shaped bib – a pale yellow section of fur on its chin and throat. This makes it possible to identify and record every individual, and their family groups. Marcus Ward from the specialist conservation consultancy, Wild New Forest, said:

'Since we recorded the first video evidence of Pine Martens in the New Forest in 2016, we have been following their progress with great interest. This new project is a wonderful opportunity to assess the current status of the New Forest population and will help inform their future conservation.'


Forestry England is supporting a range of projects across the UK to help secure the return of pine martens to England’s forests and are monitoring populations in the North York Moors, Kielder and the New Forest. It is also taking part in England’s first reintroduction of pine martens in the Forest of Dean. Begun in 2019, this project reached a major milestone in the summer of 2020 with the birth of the first kits.


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