Friday, January 14, 2011

Pine Martens are heading our way!

I’d really hoped to get out a bit more this week but, in the event, it has not been possible. I did manage to watch a few episodes of the BBC’s Lost Land Of The Jaguar, though, which I missed first time round. The team spend their time searching for flora & fauna in the pristine wilderness of Guyana’s tropical rainforest. In the final episode, Steve Backshall climbs the vertical rock face of Mount Epuigma to explore the wildlife at the summit. One of his discoveries is a tantalising set of footprints belonging to some kind of mustelid, probably new to science.

[Photo credit: Nature Library]

Exciting stuff….and I guess that Kevin O’Hara, the Conservation Officer of the Northumberland Wildlife Trust, must have got similar goosebumps when, last year, he found a Pine Marten scat on a den box in the Kidland Forest. Although there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence, it’s the first confirmed evidence of Pine Martens in England for a long time! Kevin said, “This is the holy grail for myself and many others!”

I remember a magical evening spent watching a female with two young kits at the Speyside Hide near Aviemore. The short video clip above is someone elses experience at the same location. But what would I give to see Pine Martens in Bedfordshire! Maybe it will happen one day as they slowly spread south (and east following the discovery of similar evidence in Wales a few years ago!). A few decades ago, who would have thought that Polecats would ever be seen in the County again, but now they're relatively common once more!

They used to be present, of course. Recently, we became aware of a copy of The Victoria History of the County of Bedfordshire online, via Cornell University in the United States! It was published in 1904, and below is the fascinating account of Pine Martens found there:

During the early years of the (19th century) the pine marten was still in evidence in our county, but was more particularly confined to the larger woodlands. A rapid extermination must have however followed soon afterwards, as records of a more recent date seem entirely absent, and at the present time I do not suppose there is anyone living who has any local knowledge of the marten except from hearsay. Davis, in his History of Luton (1855), refers to it as ‘rare,’ and in his second edition (1874), ‘almost extinct,’ whereas there seems little doubt that it had been exterminated even long before his first edition. Mr A. Covington remarks that he has heard his uncle speak of having occasionally obtained it around his home in Bolnhurst, and his mother when a girl had a cape made of marten cat skins and a muff of polecat skins. The animals had been caught by her father and brother in the locality. The last two that he ever heard of were one trapped in a fir tree at Sandy, and of more recent date one seen by a Mr Ruff. It had been trapped at Keysoe Wood (then of far greater acreage than now) and suspended to a hazel in one of the ridings. He also adds that keepers generally used to sell the skins of both these and polecats to the furriers. In a conversation I had some years ago with an old keeper, named Franklin, he assured me his father once killed a marten cat at Haynes about 1840, and he had heard of it being obtained at Wootten. In the Field (1859) is to be found an interesting account of the capture in Odell Wood of a pine marten and four kittens by an old gamekeeper in about the year 1819. The old cat brought up the kittens successfully in confinement, and although the mother was never tamed the young became as docile as domestic cats.

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