Rare animal returns to the New Forest

Rare pine martens are now present across the New Forest and successfully breeding after an absence of decades.

The news comes after a three year study into the rare creatures, a cat-sized member of the weasel family.

Conservationists placed 30 hidden cameras in 11 different parts of the New Forest to observe how these protected animals are returning to the area.

Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist for Forestry England, said: "The nation’s forests provide such important areas for wildlife to thrive and expand and the New Forest is doing just that for these special creatures.

"Now we know they are here and breeding, our next step is to try and estimate the size of the population and how they are using the New Forest's ancient woodlands.”

Pine martens were once widespread across the UK before habitat loss and persecution left only small and fragmented populations, mostly in northern England, Scotland, and parts of Wales.

The study began after a number of reports of public sightings suggested pine martens may have returned to the New Forest. Led by Forestry England and Wild New Forest, with support from Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, it aims to understand how these rare creatures are settling here and the size of the population.

A range of techniques were used to study these nocturnal creatures, including hidden cameras and thermal imaging surveys.

By analysing over 1,000 hours of footage, the team have been able to confirm that pine martens are not only present but that they have settled right across the New Forest.

The network of ancient woodlands here is providing an ideal habitat for them to nest, breed and establish territories.

The veteran trees in these areas provide good nesting sites in cavities and plenty of food is available for this omnivorous mammal.

Video clips captured in 2023 clearly show the presence of young pine martens, confirming breeding is taking place.

The cameras also recorded the presence of other key species of wildlife in the Forest including pole cats, another rare but returning creature.

Over the next few years, the team hope to combine the video with other methods including DNA analysis to assess the size of the population of pine martens in the New Forest.