July 1, 2008

On Trail of the Lonesome Pine

By AMY HUNT Environment Reporter

RARE mammals are reappearing in parts of the North East, thanks to conservation efforts.

Endangered pine martens, part of the weasel family, are increasingly being seen in woods around the region.

Now conservation bosses are trying to find out how many there are and what more can be done to encourage them to thrive.

Pine martens are very shy and difficult to spot in the wild. The species has been brought to the brink of extinction in England because of hunting by humans.

But Wark Forest in the Northumberland National Park is one place where the animals, which mainly live in trees, are starting to reappear.

It is thought they are being helped by changes in the types of trees planted in the region and by work being done through the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Environmental Protection Act.

Now the Vincent Wildlife Trust, a national conservation group, will join staff and volunteers from the Northumberland Wildlife Trust to complete a survey of pine martens in the area.

On July 9, they will be searching for, photographing and collecting pine marten droppings which can be sent for DNA analysis.

That will allow them to find out more about the mammals and how many are living in the forest.

John Messenger, one of the UK's leading experts on pine martens, said: "It is hoped evidence of pine martens in Northumberland will encourage forest and other land managers to tailor their land to suit them.

"Pine martens prefer mixed woodland with a variety of fruitbearing trees and it hoped a positive result will spur on further native woodland planting in the region.

"Such habitat is also preferred by black grouse, red squirrel, goshawk, dormice and many species of birds, mammals, plants and fungi."

Survey leader Kevin O'Hara, conservation officer with Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: "We are delighted to be helping the Vincent Wildlife Trust with this important work and were inundated with calls from our volunteers when we announced we needed help.

"Pine martens are becoming yet another endangered species in the UK so it is vitally important that we know where they are so we can protect them for the future.

This survey will go some way towards helping us to do that."

The pine marten was recently credited with reducing the population of the invasive grey squirrel in the UK.

For information visit www.nwt.org.uk or log on to www.vwt.org.uk

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