Island species at risk after pine marten explosion

TWO pine martens that hitched a lift on a wood lorry to Mull a decade ago have produced a population of about 30, which now poses a threat to the island’s ground nesting birds, a report claims.
Pine martens could prey on indigenous bird and reptile species. Picture: ContributedPine martens could prey on indigenous bird and reptile species. Picture: Contributed
Pine martens could prey on indigenous bird and reptile species. Picture: Contributed

The study, carried out on behalf of Mull Community Council, concluded that the mammals are likely to have established themselves across the island.

Concerns have been raised that pine martens, which are not native to Mull, could kill indigenous bird and reptile species, some of which are endangered.

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Mike Shilson, chairman of Mull Community Council, said: “Some islanders have raised concerns with the community council about the impact pine martens could have upon Mull’s unique wildlife, particularly its bird species.

“We believe localised control should be permitted where appropriate and we will work with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to agree a way forward on this matter.”

SNH has commissioned a £4,000 study to highlight ways of dealing with Mull’s pine marten invasion.

It is believed that from a couple of stowaways, thought to have arrived about ten years ago, there are now up to 30 pine martens resident on the island.

The report says: “There are broadly three management options available – the removal of the current population to achieve eradication; localised management to reduce damage or limit spread; or a non-intervention approach.”

The impact of pine martens on Mull’s native species is thought to be largely confined to some more common bird types, which it is believed won’t be seriously affected.

But the report states that pine martens may also prey on game birds and a number of birds of “conservation concern” such as corncrakes, woodland species such as wood warblers and waterbirds such as divers.

A panel of 12 independent experts concluded that monitoring the pine martens, which can be a tourist attraction, is the best option for now.

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But the report fires a warning salvo over the impact for nearby islands such as Treshnish, where important seabird colonies are found, if the pine martens manage to make their way there.

The mammals could stow away on one of the many boats that visit the Treshnish Isles and the report warns: “If martens ever colonised these areas they would have a serious impact.”

Andrew Campbell, SNH operations manager, said: “It is important to investigate the implications of a species’ arrival into areas where it was not previously found, particularly an island.

“They can sometimes cause problems for native species through predation or competition for food and could also cause problems for domestic poultry and game.”

Although re-established in much of its former range in Scotland, the pine marten is still rare in the UK and is a legally protected species.