Rare species return to Cumbria

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Image Credit: Image courtesy of Forestry England

The first confirmed sighting of a pine marten in south Cumbria in over a decade has been recorded on a remote camera in Grizedale Forest.

The species, an elusive member of the weasel family, is now found largely in Scottish woodland habitats, but evidence from local place names and hunting records suggests they were common in Cumbria until the end of 19e century before declining as habitats diminished and they were hunted as vermin. As knowledge and attitudes towards native wildlife have grown, the importance of the pine marten to the wider forest ecosystem is now better understood and celebrated.

Monitoring of pine martens in South Cumbria is well established, with surveys carried out under an exciting partnership project coordinated by the University of Cumbria – Back on our Map (BOOM), supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Over the past three years, the BOOM team has carried out a feasibility study alongside Forestry England, Graythwaite Estate, Cumbria Wildlife Trust and other partners to consider the best approach to restoring a healthy breeding population of Western Marten. pines in the south of the county.

Surveys are ongoing and early positive results point to extensive woodland habitats suitable to meet the needs of a growing pine marten population. The team was also encouraged by the positive feedback from the local community. Ed Sandys, the manager of Graythwaite Estate in the Rusland Valley commented:

“As a child, my father remembers the black grouse on the hills and the red squirrels in all the forests. We have lost so much, but we are beginning to see the return of species through dedicated conservation efforts. We are extremely happy that a pine marten has been sighted in our area and need to maintain our momentum to help in the recovery of our endangered wildlife.

However, there is still a long way to go to ensure the recovery of the species. Mic Mayhew, BOOM Project Manager, says:

“Our research shows that pine martens moving south face serious obstacles, including the M6 ​​motorway, and it is likely to be decades before we have a viable breeding population in southern Cumbria. The best way to restore populations will involve the release of additional animals trapped under license in Scotland – known as translocation.

To support the next steps of this project, a group of foresters, landowners and conservationists recently came together to form a task force and develop the next step in pine marten recovery.

The group has ambitious plans to increase engagement with local communities through public events and to expand native forest cover through innovative initiatives such as the Restoring Hardknott Forest project in the Duddon Valley. Creating new forests and connecting existing habitats will benefit pine martens transferred from Scotland and individuals moving south into the county.

Tom Dearnley, conservationist at Forestry England, said: “To see the return of the pine marten to southern Cumbria is a landmark event in nature’s recovery that we are all delighted to witness. The prediction was that a small number of these inspirational mammals could reach south Cumbria independently, confirmation means we have a solid foundation to build on and wonderful imagery to help engage this project with a community larger number of people.

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