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Pine Martin Conservation – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

pine martenOf the trilogy of major wildlife conservation programmes in the Highlands we have now covered wildcat and  red squirrel so now we turn  to the enigmatic pine marten.  The pine marten has had mixed fortunes, as with the other two mammals, in that for  a very long time persecution was the order of the day.  In the famous, or should it be infamous, list of killed predators between 1837 and 1840 from the estate of Glengarry, south-west of Inverness the pine marten is put into perspective.   Foxes 11, wildcats 198, house cats 78, pine martens 246, polecats 106, weasels and stoats 301 and badgers 67.    These “gibbet” numbers were not exceptional  and could be repeated on most  other estates  throughout the Highlands.   Indeed it is a wonder that the pine martens ever survived such a continuous slaughter.

Much more recently than this the pine martens have been persecuted for raiding young pheasant rearing pens, invading loft spaces of houses to rear  their kits and raiding domestic birds such as chickens, ducks and even rabbits in their hutches.    In many instances  it is the owners fault for not securing their livestock at night but remember that a pine marten can chew through new rabbit netting so precautions have to be sound.  One aspect about the pine  marten, and other predators can be the same, is what some people mistakenly call “blood killing”.  This is where a pine marten will kill far more prey than it apparently needs.   This is not killing  for the sake of killing but leaving food either so it can brings its kits back to feed or come back itself.  However, this does not help the owner, for example of chickens, reacting to the  slaughter when it takes place.

However, changing times and attitudes have been helping the pine marten for some years and one move was the total protection under the legislation in 1988.  Pine martens have also been able to take advantage  of the suitable habitats that widescale planting of conifers created.  Nevertheless the immediate and long term moves remain  essential for the pine marten’s future.  One recent major step forward has been the current work of  the Vincent Wildlife  Trust to translocate them from Scotland to Wales.  A major step forward by the Trust was its development of special nestboxes that only the pine martens would use.   This stops the animals taking over nestboxes erected for goldeneye ducks, barn owls and other species.  Needless to say such programme are costly and initial  figures estimate it at £1.2 million .  According  to the first reports the moving of pine martens form Scotland to Wales  has been successful and the first kits have been born.

Some people are lucky enough to have pine martens visit their gardens and some people even put out food for them.  For those who are not so lucky seeing one is a matter of chance.   Some hotels and Bed and Breakfasts even advertise their presence as part of the attraction.  Elsewhere there are a few hides from which  they can be seen such as the Speyside Wildlife Hide.  There is one at Aigas Field Centre, near Inverness, and at the Kindrogan Field Centre in Perthshire.    As for identification  the pine marten is about the size of a domestic cat with shorter legs and a long, bushy tail.  The ears are large and rounded and at close quarters the creamy inside fur in them may make them visible.   They are essentially nocturnal  animals so if you see one during the day it could well be hungry for some reason, such as the weather, or have hungry  kits.

Sika Deer – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

sika deerIt was this time last year when I last saw a group of sika deer in Strathnairn, just south of Inverness, where I live.   As usual I  just presumed that they originated from Strathdearn, the next strath south where they were introduced many years ago.  Now, after reading two books by G. Kenneth Whitehead I have my doubts as to their origin.   Their introduction to Strathdearn was in about 1900, the first introduction of this deer into Inverness-shire.  Mr. William D. Mackenzie brought them in from his deer park at Fawley Court in Buckinghamshire and turned them out at Glenmazeran and Glenkyllachy.   This was normal practice for landowners and had the advantage that deer in other parts of Britain could be in good condition to cope with the severe weather they could face in the Highlands.   In those days deer were brought in for three  main reasons.  One was  just for showing off in the deer park, whilst another was for fresh meat, in other words venison, and the other for sport.   The sika in Strathdearn did not have a good time as  they suffered from the severe weather in some  winters.    After the sale of Glenmazeran in 1929 many  of the  sika deer were shot and by 1949 it was thought they were extinct.  However, within ten years they started to reappear again which is a sign as to how secretive they can be in the woodland they prefer so much rather than the open hill like red deer.   Interestingly,  their offspring are  still there, along with red deer and roe deer.

The two estates in Strathdearn are about eight miles south of Strathnairn so where are the other  introductions of sika deer in this part of the Highlands?  By far the nearest is at Aldourie Castle estate that lies just over six miles south of Inverness, at the head of Loch Ness.  It is about seven miles west of Strathnairn.  At the same time, around 1900,  as the introduction of sika deer to Strathdearn eight sika deer were introduced  to Aldourie.  They were brought down from the huge, 2,000 acre, and famous deer park at Rosehall in  Sutherland where in 1923 there were no less than 150 red deer, 200 fallow deer, 40 roe deer and 50 fallow deer.  This was very unusual to have all these deer species in a park as fallow were normally  the favourite for deer parks followed by red deer.  The sika at Aldourie did much better than  the ones in Strathdearn which is not surprising  as the weather was influenced by Loch Ness and the nearby sea would have been much milder that in the Monadhliath hills of Strathdearn.   From this original Aldourie introduction the sika  spread remarkably and by 1933 were  along the whole of the east side of Loch Ness as far south as Glendoe.  Then, by 1960, they had spread even further reaching Fort Augustus and had reached Aberchalder and Culachy.   In 1949 there were reports of Sika at Corriegarth and at Brin,   near Farr.  It could still be tempted to think that the Strathnairn sika had come from the introduction into Strathdearn but there is a  simple  reason they did not take this route.  I can see the reason from the window of my study as on the far side  of the strath are  bare hills between here and Garbole in Strathdearn.   Sika deer are essential woodland deer and so the bare hills  have been a barrier to them.  So the sika deer I see in this strath would have originated from the Aldourie Castle  estate, via Rosehall in Sutherland.