The first pine martens to be introduced again to England have experienced kits, marking a milestone in efforts to increase their recovery, conservationists said.
The native carnivores all but vanished from England facing intensive hunting and decrease in their woodland homes in the last 2 centuries, and in Scotland they were put to a stronghold in the north-west Highlands.
Even though the species has undergone a revival in Scotland, they remain very rare in England, prompting the initial formal reintroduction scheme into the Forest of Dean, Gloucester.
The scheme, led by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Forestry England, with accompaniment from Vincent Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust and Forest Research, has marked a success with newly released females giving birth to young.
The initial 18 animals were trans-located from Scotland to Gloucestershire in September 2019.The Radio tracking plus trail camera monitoring has revealed that at least 3 females have given birth.
People in the public are unlikely to see the solitary, elusive animals, but the footage shows them making themselves at home into the forest.
Pine martens usually do not necessarily breed on a yearly basis, that is the main reason behind their slow recovery in England and Wales, however the arrival of kits shows conditions in the forest suit them, the experts said.
Dr Cat McNicol, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s conservation projects manager, said: “This is hugely reassuring for all of us and a significant success factor for the project. The fact that some females have given birth suggests the conditions in the forest are as good as we had hoped.
“There seems to have been plenty of food available for them through winter and there are several great denning sites for the females to give birth and raise kits in, such as old beech trees full of hollows as well as mature conifers with cracks and cavities out of reach.”
The animals mate during summer however delay their pregnancy until spring once the conditions are suitable for them.
Most pine martens give birth to 2 or 3 kits, which begin to be weaned at about six weeks on to solid food such as for instance voles, mice and small birds that the females bring back to the dens.
As they age, they begin to practice climbing, though these are generally clumsy in the first place and can fall out of their dens, so it’s a busy time for the mothers taking care of them and hunting for food, the experts said.
The 3-year reintroduction project, which follows a scheme to bring them back to Wales, aims to bring up to sixty pine martens into the Forest of Dean.
Rebecca Wilson, a planning and environment manager for Forestry England, said: “The hope is that over the next 2 yrs, more pine martens are going to be released in the forest and that a population will establish there. This population will then spread and link up with recently reintroduced Welsh pine martens, creating a fresh stronghold for the species and ensuring its survival.”