Dear Readers, of all the creatures that you might expect to catch on a camera trap in your garden, one of the most unlikely is a pine marten, and yet that’s exactly what you can see in the image above. The photo was taken as part the Zoological Society of London’s Hogwatch scheme, which is monitoring hedgehogs and sometimes spots other animals such as foxes and badgers (and domestic cats of course). However, pine martens are critically endangered, and the nearest wild population to south west London, where the photo was taken, is in the New Forest seventy miles away. This is the first time that a pine marten has been recorded in London for over a century.
So, how did he or she get to the capital? There are populations of urban pine martens in other cities, and I remember one eating biscuit crumbs from my hotel window box in Obergurgl, Austria about twenty years ago, but this individual may well have escaped from a collection, or have been part of an unofficial rewilding scheme. Let’s hope not as far as the latter goes – releasing an animal in the London suburbs is surely not the best way to assure its survival. But the folk at ZSL will be monitoring their cameras to see if there’s more than one pine marten. This animal seems to be in excellent health, and to be behaving normally, which is good news.
There has been some talk about releasing pine martens as a biological control for grey squirrels – in Scotland, where the bulk of the pine martens live, they seem to find it difficult to catch the faster, lighter red squirrels, but may have a field day with the bigger, slower grey squirrels. Alas, we all know how these stories end – pine martens are also very fond of eggs and young birds, which I suspect are a bit easier to catch. Nonetheless, if they turn up naturally these rare and beautiful mammals would be a splendid addition to the Capital’s fauna.