The Pine Marten is one of the most elusive animals to spot in the wild. They have dark-brown hair with a very distinctive yellow or white throat patch. They are about the size of a small domestic cat and sport a long bushy tail.
Pine Martens form part of the Mustelidae family of carnivorous mammals. This diverse group includes otters, ferrets, badgers, wolverines, and mink.
Mankind’s Impact on Pine Marten
Pine Martens together with their dens are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and are classified as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. It is illegal to trap sell or disturb them unless it is under license.
By 1926, the Pine Marten population in the UK was virtually extinct with just a small population in Scotland, Wales, and the Lake District. Persecution by gamekeepers and deforestation was the predominant cause. Additionally, poachers trapped and killed them for their fur.
Populations are now increasing, albeit, estimates support that there there are only somewhere between 3 to 4000 individuals in the UK as a whole. Despite the protected status of Pine Martens, there are multiple deaths each year through poisoned traps aimed at foxes and other predatory animals.
Pine Marten Diet
Pine Martens are predominantly nocturnal, hunting a night, and resting in the day. They have an acute vision as well as a sense of smell, which enables them to find and hunt prey. A carnivorous animal, they favor small mammals such as mice, rabbits, voles, etc. They will also eat birds as well as amphibians.
Interestingly, the resurgence of Pine Martens has helped the native red squirrel population recover. The grey squirrel is virtually oblivious to the predatory threat of Pine Martens and often forms part of the Pine Martens diet. When their carnivorous prey is scarce, they eat fruit and berries.
The Scottish Highlands are the main habitat for Pine Martens, as well as isolated populations in the south of Scotland, and Northern Ireland. By the end of the 20th century, Pine Martens were pretty much extinct in England and Wales. However, they have since recovered, with small confirmed populations observed in some areas of England as well as Wales, and larger populations in Scotland. The Pine Martens thrive in woodlands, where they live in holes inside trees, as well as old birds’ nests and squirrel dreys.
Notably, they sometimes set up their dens in the fallen root masses of Scottish pine trees, and it is this association that perhaps earned them their curious name. Their territories span up to 25 square kilometers, though this very much depends on the availability of food.
Note that this map is for a rough illustration of animal distribution across the UK.
Pine Martens are fantastic climbers and can leap between branches up to 1.3m, and can endure falls of up to 6m without succumbing to injuries. Despite this, they normally feed on the ground. They hunt alone and mark their territories with scats (feces) to ward off other Pine Martens. During the mating season, they can often be heard making cat-like noises. The females have litters of up to 3-5 individuals, which are born without fur and blind. Youngsters are all weaned and independent by the summer.
Their average lifespan is 10 years. The adult body length is up to 45cm, with a further 25cm for tail length. They weigh between 0.9 – 1.7kg.
Pine Marten Natural Predators
They do not have many natural predators, although it is known for them to be hunted by golden eagles, foxes, and even the Scottish wildcat.
Where & When To Photograph Pine Martens
Because they are active all year round, there are always opportunities to spot them. Albeit, the Pine Marten is notoriously difficult to spot in the wild. The best opportunities to get photographs are to visit some of the dedicated hides located in Scotland. At the time of writing, there are two of these. Firstly, the Algas Field Centre is located in Invernesshire, and secondly, the Forest Wood Wildlife Reserve in Cumbernauld.
Many people attract them to their gardens and birdhouses using peanut butter or jam sandwiches, which they love.
Camera & Settings
This very much depends on where you manage to photograph them. Some people manage to get full-frame shots on lenses with modest focal ranges. However, generally, something up to 400mm should be sufficient in most cases.
As with most nature photography, I tend to photograph in auto-focus and on AI Servo so that I can continuously track movement. I have found I get a better success rate using an expanded center point rather than a center spot or maximum focal points. I use speed priority as a general rule and set the speed based on the focal length of the lens as well as the amount of activity of the animal.
Map distribution data interpolated based upon JNCC data.