Chance photo spots first English pine marten in a century

Chance photo spots first English pine marten in a century

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A chance photograph taken in an English woodland has resulted in the first confirmed pine marten sighting in the country in a century - and wildlife experts are now hoping to carry out research into how many may be resident.

The amateur cameraman took the snap in Shropshire and noticed the large mammal striding through the trees on the resulting image.

He passed the suspected sighting on to the Shropshire Wildlife Trust and expert Stuart Edmunds was able to confirm it was indeed a pine marten.

Previously, it had been suspected that the creatures had carved out habitat niches in England, but other photos taken had turned out to be anything from squirrels and mink to domestic cats.

"There is now a possibility that they may have been living here right under our noses for a long time," Mr Edmunds commented.

Scotland and Wales both have established pine marten populations and it's thought that the individual spotted in Shropshire may be from a group that has crossed over from Wales to England.

Shropshire Wildlife Trust has now set up a fund with which it can carry out research into exactly how many pine martens are present in the county and is hoping to raise £1,000 from member donations to ensure they keep spreading across England.

Pine martens were once widespread across the UK, but trapping and shooting hit their populations hard and they were classed as an endangered species in 1981, then declared officially extinct in England in the 1990s.

They look similar to stoats but are much larger, growing up to 54 cm plus another 27 cm for the tail in males.

It can be difficult to spot them because they typically hide in trees during the day and come out at night, but they have a dark reddish brown coat with a white bib and a bushy tail if you want to start looking out for them in English woodlands.

Pine martens mostly feed on small rodents, insects, fungi and birds, but this is supplemented with berries in autumn.