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Animal Fact File: European Pine Marten

Name: European Pine Marten

Scientific Name: Martes martes

Description: A native to Northern Europe, the pine marten is a small carnivore with semi-retractable claws and a long bushy tail, which allows them to climb and run through trees. They are mainly active at night and dusk, making them hard to spot.

Pine marten sitting on top of logs

Species: The pine marten belongs to the carnivorous mustelid family, along with otters, badgers and weasels. Mustelids are the largest family in the Carnivora order, and have common characters of being typically small animals with elongated bodies, short legs and thick fur.

Colouring: Pine martens have light to dark brown fur, and a distinctive cream-yellow ‘bib’ marking on their throats. In winter their fur is longer and thicker.

Length: 60-70cm nose to tail.  

Height: 15cm

Weight: 0.9-2.2kg

Habitat: Pine martens prefer well-wooded areas, making dens in hollow trees or scrub-covered fields, but can be found in rocky areas. In Britain, they are found in the Scottish Highlands and some populations in North England and North Wales. They are widespread in Ireland.  

Diet: As carnivores, pine martens feed on birds, small rodents, beetles, eggs and carrion. In the summer, their diet is made up of berries such as Rowan berries, blackberries and bilberries, which results in their scats turning blue or red.

Breeding: Sexual maturity is between three and four years, and mating occurs between July and August, with young born in late March or April. Litters are one to five kits, and the young begin to emerge from dens after seven to eight weeks, and independent by the autumn.

Lifespan: Up to eight years 

Pine marten on a log in a wooded area

Other Facts:

  • The recovering population of pine martens have been credited with reducing the invasive grey squirrel populations in the UK and Ireland, which in turn, has helped the red squirrel populations.
  • Though preyed on by golden eagles, wildcats and foxes, the biggest threat to pine martens are humans due to predator control or woodland loss, and were previously hunted for their fur.
  • Pine martens were once the second most common carnivore in Britain and today are one of the rarest.
  • Pine martens are native to the UK, arriving around 10,500 BC.
  • In the UK, European pine martens and their dens are under protection of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and Environmental Protection Act.
  • Pine martens are solitary and territorial and mark their range with their scat in prominent places.
  • Pine martens are difficult to spot, being shy and nocturnal. They are mostly studied by their footprints, droppings and lost fur than by direct sightings.

Be sure to check out our previous animal fact file blog posts on Britain’s carnivores from the red fox to the badger. When out in the countryside looking for wildlife, be sure to have appropriate country clothing, and update your shooting accessories for when the season comes around again!