The enigmatic and solitary pine marten, which once graced Britain’s woodlands in huge numbers, is the subject of a new £60,000 conservation project funded by Natural England as part of the Countdown 2010 Biodiversity Action Fund drive. The pine marten, an endangered relation of the stoat and badger, was once killed for its fur and tendency to attack poultry, but it has been protected since 1988, and its failure to re-establish numbers outside Scotland is a mystery to conservationists.

However, pine-marten numbers have long been hotly debated and the Herefordshire-based Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), which is running the project, says suggestions that the rare carnivore, a slow breeder, is extinct in England and Wales are ‘inaccurate and unhelpful’. It points out that ‘crucial questions need to be answered before release is undertaken’ and doesn’t currently support reintroduction. ‘If the surviving populations in England and Wales are struggling to thrive, what are the critical factors limiting them? It’s also important to determine what genetic characteristics these relict populations have. If they differ from those of reintroduced stock, might reintroduced pine martens permanently alter the unique characteristics of the original stock through interbreeding?’

The project, run by trained volunteers and specialists, aims to track the animal using den box schemes, camera traps and baiting stations. If you see a pine marten, telephone 01531 636441 or visit