Nature Notes

by Jenny Dixon

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

I AM very lucky to have family living in the wilds: sister beside Loch Fyne, stepson in the Snowdonia National Park. It’s more of an effort now to visit them, but they send me regular updates on their exciting – and, to me, often exotic - wildlife sightings. The fauna is, in many ways, different. From the coast Susie sends news of red squirrels, otters and roe deer: from the forest Chris tells of polecats, goshawks (wow! – goshawks!) and fallow deer. Now, suddenly there is a fascinating link.

On the forest track near their field, daughter-in-law Lyn spotted a van with “Vincent Wildlife Trust” written on its side. Further enquires revealed that the Trust was running a project to reintroduce pine martens into suitable habitats in Wales, and that one site was within half a mile of the small holding. Seeing their interest the enthusiastic project officer offered Chris and Lyn a feeding station and camera on their land. Meanwhile they’ve been enjoying videos of a female and three kits living in a specially constructed den. These are posted on the Vincent Wildlife Trust website.

For three years now I have been receiving stories and photographs from my sister of pine martens visiting her garden feeders – at least four separate individuals. Pine martens belong to the mustelid family that includes otters, badgers and weasels and are omnivores, feeding on small mammals, birds’ eggs, nuts and berries: they particularly enjoy the peanuts put out for the red squirrels and soon become adept at accessing the box feeder, even in pitch darkness. They sometimes come in broad daylight but more regularly at night, and recently a motion-triggered camera with infrared film has enabled us to get a clearer idea of this hidden life.

Now we learn that the animals introduced to Wales are taken from areas where populations are booming – in Scotland. Perhaps the characters in the stories we are so enjoying are actually related. It’s a pleasing – but as yet unverified – thought.

All this may seem very far away from Wharfedale. However, after years of rumours that pine martens are present in North Yorkshire, we finally have proof. A camera trap has captured images of a genuine Yorkshire pine marten. Maybe this will lead to a reintroduction programme here – to widen the gene pool. It’s a very suitable habitat. And – further news, gruesome but good, – pine martens are known to predate grey squirrels: slower, heavier and meatier than their red cousins.