Weekly Nature Watch

Keith Graham's weekly update on the nature of the Park.

Weekly Nature Watch 6th March 2020

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When I was but a lad, I used to lie on my back in a field gazing ever skywards to watch the hovering kestrels and the towering buoyant flight of skylarks, which were singing as if their lungs were about to burst. Skylarks and countryside are, or perhaps were, endemic and you seldom had the one without the other. In more recent years I used to watch them from my garden, watch as they climbed up into the sky and all seemed well then – I had my larks, I had my wonderful hovering kestrels.  Now the skies hereabouts are empty and for the past few years, they have been sadly bereft of the quite magnificent song of the skylark.

In recent years, the decline in farmland birds has been alarming. I no longer hear the ‘little bit of bread but no cheese’ ditty of the yellowhammer. Once upon a time, wherever I went during the summer months, that cheerful little song would ring out from every hedgerow. Now there is that all pervading silence. I used to be regularly visited by tree sparrows, now I never see one. What are we doing to our countryside?  Since the 1970s, nearly seventy per cent of starlings, those ever-present raiders of my bird table, have disappeared.

I was shocked to learn these birds are on the red alert list and in such rapid decline that their future is threatened. Starlings, I ask you! When, as a young boy I first became interested in birds, the starlings were viewed rather like a plague. At times, they dominated our bird-table, bullying other birds and always, it seemed, grabbing the best of the food we provided. Since those youthful days, I have gained a tad more respect for these vagabonds. Indeed, I have thought for a while that starlings are the ‘colley’ birds of the carol, ‘a partridge in a pear tree’.

Some claim that ‘colley’ (black) birds, not ‘calling birds’ as most sing, are blackbirds but reading an extract from a new book, “Red Sixty Seven”, I am now further convinced that colley birds are starlings. In that book, the first edition of which has already sold out and with a reprint now on the way, the author, Rob Cowen, speaks of the starlings as once being as common as coal.  He compares the iridescent purples, greens and blues on a black background of their feathers as the rare hues of petrol on water – all colours that you get from a coal fire - and he also refers to their smoke-like swirling in the skies. Surely then these are the real colley birds.

Starlings are full of character - Chaplinesque at times - as they strut here and there, often causing chaos and prone at times to bullying other birds at bird-tables. But at times, there can be a distinctly comedic aspect to their behavior, albeit that various town and city councils don’t appear to see their funny side. Rather do they wage war on them with some authorities having spent considerable amounts of money in trying to deter them from roosting en-masse on town and city buildings.

Starlings are well known for gathering together in large numbers in the evening in massive roosts which sometimes number more than a million birds. This strategy has caused much puzzlement for although they get together in this way, they do not huddle as a means of generating corporate heat. In fact, many other birds practice this togetherness as a means of deterring potential predators. I suppose the self-preservation theory is that if you are one of a million or so birds you have a statistically better chance of not becoming a victim!

The famous ‘mumurations’ when thousands, sometimes millions of starlings come together to paint the sky black with their incredible patterns – like smoke drifting across a sky brushed this way and that by the wind – are a truly amazing phenomenon, a movement which, in my view, might justify inclusion among the wonders of the world. These displays terminate eventually when the mass of birds decides it is time to settle down for the night at which point, they all dive into a roost. It is then that starlings begin their evening prayers – not so much supplication as exchanges of information as to where the best and most productive feeding places are and so on and so forth. Starlings may not speak in the way that we humans do but somehow, they do manage to share this vital information.

As said before, starling numbers have been flagging over the years and no-one can pinpoint the reason. A near seventy per cent reduction in overall numbers since the mid seventies is, by any calculation, a severe drop in population and accordingly starlings are now endangered birds. One explanation put forward is that a succession of dry summers has made the soil that they explore for invertebrates, less yielding and more difficult to penetrate but this does not apply universally. Nor would I expect this to have a profound effect upon a bird which is particularly well equipped to seek food by prodding its long, pointed beak deep into the soil.

Among the strange facts of starling life is a cuckoo-like inclination to lay eggs in other starling’s nests. Maybe they’ve watched the cuckoos and thought ‘that’s a good idea!’. I certainly have a clear memory of a parent starling hurtling towards its own nest full of chicks with a beak full of wriggling insects, being lured by the highly coloured interior of the yawning gape of a young cuckoo and thus instinctively going to the cuckoo and discharging its cargo into that open mouth. But copying cuckoos and depositing eggs in other nests may just be a way of ensuring that the species prevails.

Wildlife provides us with plenty of warnings as to the damage we may be causing to the environment. The demise of so many starlings in recent years, the absence of yellowhammers and tree sparrows, not to mention the aforesaid kestrels and skylarks, are clear warnings that all is not well. Therefore, the sooner we can work out just why our starlings are in such disarray and just why our yellowhammers and other birds are also in such decline, we should not rest easy.

Although starlings are pretty omnivorous, the fear that insects, their principle source of food, are also in such decline may well be a clue. Reports from all over western Europe indication that insect populations are at seriously low levels also tells us that insect eating birds are bound to suffer as a result. And the fact that we are too easily persuaded that all weeds are bad and need eliminating, ignores the fact that many birds, including the yellowhammer, depend on the seeds of many weeds for their survival.  This should surely evoke a response from us.

Perhaps we are too hasty to point the finger and eliminate things like insects and weeds and forget that they are all part of the very fabric of life. And where, oh where, are my gorgeous hovering kestrels? That perhaps is another story!

Weekly Nature Watch 28th February 2020

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I used to describe February as fickle but this year it has instead been ferocious February as a succession of storms careering in from the Atlantic have left devastating floods in their wake which have ruined many lives and businesses. And now they sign off with flurries of snow which thank goodness have not settled markedly at lower levels. So much for impending spring albeit ironically, we have daffodils bursting into flower to join the snowdrops! And now it is said that more inclement weather is on the way!

Perhaps as a consequence of these storms, there has been much activity at my bird-table of late, with usual suspects in plentiful supply. Chaffinches and sparrows of the house variety dominate in numbers whilst a pair of collared doves are also regular attendees. There is also that added bit of spice which hints further at forthcoming spring with definite signs among the cock birds especially, that the sap is beginning to rise. Lengthening hours of daylight are now an increasing influence.

There has been the sudden arrival of siskins on cue, as they are virtually every February, to add a further variety to the mix and, as always, they bring that extra dimension of feistiness to the proceedings. There have been a few testy encounters between them and the goldfinches, which surely tells us that, despite the persistence of bad weather conditions, spring is inexorably moving towards us. The odd crow and a pair of magpies together with the usual plethora of blackbirds, the inevitable robin and an occasional wren make for an interesting roll-call.

There are few of the visiting hordes more blatantly spirited than the goldfinches which concentrate on the sunflower hearts and resist the advances of the much larger chaffinches, greenfinches and sparrows at the feeder, their little red faces seemingly even redder when disputes arise. The arrival of those siskins has also added to the heightened atmosphere. Small is both beautiful and challenging and the siskins are certainly a match for most of the other diners, small or not. They are just about as aggressive as the goldfinches which, also being on the small size, are roughly the same size.

The siskin is one of the few birds that has prospered in recent times, largely due to the increased planting of conifers in many parts of Britain. And once it found that gardens had much to offer in the way of bird food, they soon became regular garden visitors. Like the goldfinches, they seem to like sunflower hearts and once one of them has established a place at the feeder, other birds find them hard enough to be dislodged. Between them, the goldfinches and the siskins are now dominating the sunflower hearts.

The siskin male is an attractive wee bird, adorned with a little black cap, liberally splashed with yellow and green and with a prominent black bib. Its wings are streaked and this is an agile bird, full of nimble tricks. The female is a little plainer, streaked but also tinged with yellow. Siskins are sociable birds and in the cock birds those with a large bib seem to be dominant. Not only does the size of the male bird’s black bib indicate a superiority but scientists have also discovered that birds with a longer yellow wing-bar are actually better foragers. Thus, if you are a female siskin, what you’re looking for is a mate with a large black bib and a longer than usual yellow wing-bar!

One unusual trait becomes obvious when males are seen feeding other males. These are subordinate birds down the pecking order, feeding their superiors.  As the breeding season progresses you may see more male birds ‘doffing their forelocks’ to senior and dominant males which actually demand the attention of their ‘minions’ and a constant supply of food! Life for senior members of the tribe therefore seems particularly relaxed!

When, during the nineteenth century, cage birds were all the rage I’m afraid siskins were often held in captivity, esteemed because of their attractive plumage but also for their sweet little song. Although there are still plenty of bird fanciers, there are now strict rules and laws which prevent the capture of wild birds. When siskins were popular cage birds they were often known as aberdavines, a name thought to derive from the bird’s preference for alder seeds. It is thought to translate roughly from the German as ‘alder finch’. Indeed, the appearance of siskins at my bird-table at this time of the year usually coincides with the reduction of alder seeds available elsewhere. Another similarity with goldfinches is their sheer athleticism when they are teasing out seeds. The narrow beak is an ideal tool with which to extract them. Siskins also feed on birch and pine seeds and almost always choose conifers as nesting sites.

The name siskin seems to find its origins in the German language. ‘Ziseke’ is the German interpretation of a siskin’s call, meaning ‘chirper’ or ‘whistler’. There is a strong population across Europe where of course, there are extensive coniferous forests but there is a completely separate population of identical birds in China and Japan. One feature of siskin life is the constant conversations between members of a flock. Like goldfinches there is a constant buzz as they move through the trees. In flight, they converse with a soft call, ‘tseu’.  They also sometimes chatter like sparrows and the song may be described as a sizzling melody of fast notes and twitters interspersed with little buzzing interludes.

The annual arrival of siskins takes us another step towards spring. Yet the weather seems intent on us keeping us firmly in winter. The driving winds – this has been a very windy February – and the driving rain with interludes of hail and snow mean that the arrival of March does not obviously open the door to spring. And yet March’s entry is symbolic and as the days continue to lengthen, spring will at last take hold. We can perhaps look forward to the arrival of the first migrants albeit that odd reports of single swallows and occasional martins may very definitely seem premature. Any early migrants are unlikely to survive the wintry blasts!

Despite the succession of storms, days are in fact slowly lengthening and there are, between the frequent showers, certain signs of forthcoming spring especially in the shape of a recently seen vibrant pussy willow and of course also through the arrival of the siskins during their annual translocation, plus daffodils bursting into flower, blackbirds in full song, sawing great tits and a few bursts of music from cock robin promise much. The chorus is growing. As we welcome St David’s Day on Sunday, I’ll be looking at the local rookery to see if tradition holds true and the rooks, in fact, make their return to their high-rise village. At present however, I must confess that as global warming asserts its influence, tradition seems to count for nothing!

Weekly Nature Watch 20th Feb 2020

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Man is, and always has been suspicious of crows. Whether this antipathy is because crows are black I know not but crows always raise a deeply rooted feeling of suspicion and enmity in the hearts of men. Mind you, the feeling is mutual. Man and crow have been on opposite sides for countless generations. Crows, of course, have in many ways contributed much to this scenario, especially in areas where sheep farming is practiced. Crows have been known to peck out the eyes of newly born lambs and even to take their tongues, actions which naturally further engender that antipathy several fold.

Mind you, the attitude of crows towards man is just as hostile and cautious. The other day, we put some bread out for the birds. It wasn’t long before sparrows were filching lumps of bread almost as big as themselves, manfully flying off with them before assaulting them with typical vigour. But then there arrived a crow. At first it flew over the bread before alighting some distance from it. Then, it proceeded to sidle towards it stepping very carefully sideways and always clearly ready to face into the wind in order to get lift off and fly away. Storm Dennis was apparent with a fair wind blowing and it was obvious that the crow was ensuring that he could make a quick getaway if necessary.

I have been aware of the extreme caution exhibited by crows when approaching the vicinity of our bird-table but this was particularly pronounced and in fact the bird eventually gave up without ever getting near enough to the bread to profit from it. The sparrows just kept coming and going until there was not a piece to be seen. I have noticed that both crows and magpies are particularly nervy when trying to take advantage of the goodies on and around our bird-table. Mind you the hostility with which both are viewed fully justifies their caution.

Yet, members of the crow clan are notably highly intelligent. Time and time again, crows have baffled scientists with their intelligence and their ability to work things out. There was an experiment with a captive rook in which worms were placed in a tube with some water but not enough for the rook to reach them. The only other thing available to the rook were some small stones but having studied the situation for a minute or two, it then proceeded to place the stones in the tube until it had put enough of them in to raise the water level to the top of the tube and was able to feast off the worms. I know a few human beings who would be hard pressed to think of that!

Then there were the crows in a university campus in Japan which stationed themselves around the only traffic lights on the campus, waited for the lights to turn red and then flew down to place walnuts under the wheels of queuing traffic.  They then returned after the lights had turned green and the traffic had gone having driven over the nuts to smash the hard shells, thus revealing the nuts inside! An interesting thought process! But that is exactly what these two examples are … thought processes. Some experiments have revealed a sense of sharing among members of the corvid clan and even a resentment when one steps out of line and steals another’s food prize. That said, visit a rookery and the air is full of petty pilfering as nesting birds steal nesting material from neighbours.

Crows even have tool making skills. They have been observed breaking twigs off a tree, stripping the bark and then fashioning the end of the twig into a hook so that it can then be used as a tool to extract, for example, insects from inaccessible niches! Experiments have also shown that ravens, the largest members of the corvid clan, can recognize individual humans by their faces! In subsequent experiments the humans, especially those who have caused some upset among the birds, have therefore had to resort to wearing masks.

One American scientist started to leave food treats for his crows and discovered that they were able to recognize not only his face but also the way in which he walked.  He found that those crows were much more approachable when he came back again and clearly welcomed his presence. Strangers, however, were given a much wider berth. Examination reveals, that despite their smaller brains compared to those of humans and apes, ravens and crows pack in lots of neurons to make up for a lack of space.

It is said that crows also stage funerals when a member of their community dies.  And, crows are known to hold ’parliaments’ in which it is thought that a miscreant is ‘tried’ and later put to death. I have witnessed one such event and concluded that rather than the victim being a miscreant, it was instead a sickly bird that posed a threat to the rest of the crow community and was accordingly eliminated.  There is not much room for sentimentality in nature. Various other experiments have led scientists to conclude that rooks, crows and ravens have minds that are ahead even of those of primates. Certainly, no experiment has ever revealed that a primate could work out that by adding stones to a tube of water, the level could be raised and the rewards duly seized upon.

Yet if scientists give crows top marks, the poets down the ages have scorned them. Shakespeare calls them ‘ribald creatures’, Prior, ‘foreboding’, Dryden, ‘dastard’, Cowley, ’ignoble’, whereas Dyer refers to them both as ‘lurking‘ and ‘larking …. villain crows’, suggesting perhaps a wicked sense of humour lurking within their breasts.  Of course, crows and their ilk haunted many an old battlefield, profiting morbidly from the slaughter. Macauley in his “Lake Regillus” writes:

“And crows on eager wings,

 To tear the flesh of captains,

 And peck the eyes of kings.“

The crow’s reputation certainly goes before it and being so black doesn’t help the cause.

There have been other black birds around my bird-table. They are blackbirds and their awareness of approaching spring has already been manifested in music. Two crocus-billed males set up a competition the other day each trying to outdo the other with the volume of song. It certainly brightened what was an otherwise extremely dull day as each vied with the other. And despite the inclement weather, they gave distant hope of better weather to come.

I’ve often wondered why blackbirds apparently escape the paranoia that other black birds seem to engender. Perhaps it is the music they generate? The poets accordingly have high regard for the merle. Cook, in his “Bird in the storm”, wrote of the blackbird thus:-

                                    “A blackbird, perched in that old tree,

                                     Kept whistling clear and loud;

                                     Its little heart, brimful of glee,

                                     Seemed running o’er with joy, to be

                                     In a spot without a cloud.”

Weekly Nature Watch 14th February 2020

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The weather has been making the headlines as storm Ciara drenched us and battered us with high velocity winds and just to make a proper job of it, rounded things off with a peppering of snow, all of which caused chaos and disrupted travel.  It did not, however, disrupt the local gang of rooks which seemed to revel in the hostile conditions and clearly rejoiced in the swirling wind. Soon, they were also hurtling about the sky like dancing dervishes. We may think of rooks as common or garden birds, yet give them a wind to play with and they really do respond.

They come rushing down that wind before cutting up and diving headlong into it with absolutely gay abandon. It seems to me that this is their excuse to demonstrate that despite a reputation as comparatively unexceptional birds in the general scheme of things, they nevertheless can boast exceptional flying skills that would knock those of most other birds into a cocked hat. It may seem incongruous but rooks definitely respond to wind by deliberately setting out to enjoy themselves, challenging the wind with a whole range of fantastic aerobatics.

But whilst I was admiring the bravado and enthusiasm of the rooks, another bird hove into view. In recent weeks we have had daily visits from a red kite. The rooks demonstrate remarkable flying skills but even they are put to shame by the kite. It has to be the most magnificent aviator of them all - by far in my view, the noblest, most skillful flyer of all our birds of prey. If the peregrine may be regarded as a master of the air with its capability of reaching 200 mph in the stoop, if the hawks are dynamic, short distance flyers, kestrels handsome hoverers and eagles simply magnificent, the kites of this world are the most sumptuous flyers of them all. Nothing in my view is quite as dexterous and so much at home in the air.

Kites were once welcome visitors to urban areas before Environmental Health Departments were even thought of, for they were the ‘scaffies’ of such areas, cleaning up the detritus of the streets and generally accepted as a positive force in society. Of course, the kites also made a good living from that detritus. Life for human occupants was, one imagines, rather smelly to say the least. Kites still decorate their nest with bits of plastic and cloth, and are known occasionally to steal items from clothes lines. Indeed, they had a reputation for stealing the handkerchiefs from gentlemen’s breast pockets; Kites have never been overly shy!

However, as folk started to turn their attention towards a healthier environment, the kites became surplus to requirements. At the same time, the notion of game shooting was taking hold and raptors and carnivores suddenly became the enemy, targeted for their potential predation upon the much-prized game. Of course, the nature of the red kite’s flight legislated against them. They were very easy to shoot and their numbers accordingly began to decline until they had disappeared entirely from England and Scotland and only maintained a presence in the Welsh hills.

Happily, the Welsh were proud of their remaining kites and efforts were duly made to ensure their protection with a caucus of folk dedicated to that task. For a long number of years, the Welsh kites remained the only ones in Britain. However, in the latter part of the twentieth century, a programme of re-introduction began. Between 1989 and 2004, kites were brought from Spain and re-introduced initially to the Chiltern Hills in southern England. Since then, various organisations have combined to bring red kites to various parts of both England and Scotland. In this airt kites were released in the Doune area and on the Argaty Estate, between Doune and Dunblane, a centre has been established where kites are fed on a daily basis and a hide has been constructed to enable the public to enjoy the majestic kites coming in to feed. This centre offers excellent opportunities to see kites at their very best and is well worth a visit.

The first thing that strikes you about the flight of a kite is its complete control. It literally sparkles in the sunshine as it turns and its chestnut red coloured back and wings really flash brilliantly. But it is the sheer dexterity that amazes, the bird’s ability to turn, as they used to say about adroit footballers, ‘on a sixpence’. It uses every eddy of the wind to its advantage, its wings and that long forked tail flexing this way and that providing it a with rare buoyancy and at times almost giving the impression that it is capable of flying backwards.

Of course, for a medium sized bird of prey, the kite is very light which is what makes it so wonderfully maneuverable. It spends much of its time soaring over its territory, rising in loose, widening circles, its wings just forward, angled at the wrist and slightly arched. It constantly seeks out rising thermals and as it circles, it is constantly adjusting its position, gradually gaining height and forever flexing that magnificent forked tail. No other bird of prey uses its tail in the same way.

As Roger Lovegrove, a keen observer of kites in their Welsh homeland, said in his wonderful book, “The Kite’s Tale”, ‘… no bird is more ethereal on the wing, drifting and floating with the gossamer lightness of blown thistledown.’ Yet, in level flight, its wingbeats are deep and its lightweight body rises and falls with every beat. Sometimes it will indulge in a shallow glide, wings angled back and tail closed. It is, therefore, a flyer of great versatility and when kites come in to take advantage of food, they really do make you catch your breath.

To further quote Roger Lovegrove, “Of no bird is it truer to say, its whole essence is an aerial one whose being is as a part of the skies, the winds, up-draughts, thermals and eddies which bear it aloft and sustain it there, riding in buoyant flight on the air currents.’

Unlike most other birds of prey, red kites are quite community orientated birds, often roosting together.  Although largely a scavenger, the kite is also well equipped to pluck small birds out of the air and also to haver in search of small mammals. Above all it is an opportunist, capable of earning its living in a multitude of ways.

I think the daily visitor we have here is probably a male, slightly smaller than the female and a little more dexterous in flight. He had a little tussle with a buzzard the other day but there was only ever going to be one winner, for the kite completely out-flew its heavier, clumsier rival and therefore reigned supreme.


Weekly Nature Watch 7th Feb 2020

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The transformation has been incredible. Furthermore, the effect has not been just localized but widespread and grey squirrels have disappeared like snow off a dyke since I saw my first pine marten here. Happily, we now have a burgeoning population of red squirrels in place of the greys. The arrival of pine marten in this area has had that transformative effect. And although my little clan of hens – all bar one - was cleared out by one of the said pine martens which still potters round with pheasants for company, the spectacle of seeing red squirrels now in abundance is ample recompense.

In essence, the pine marten is around the size of a slender cat, with a noticeably bushy tail. The orange- coloured bib, which makes this such an attractive animal, contains an ‘indentikit’ spot marking which enables us to recognize individuals.

I’ve enjoyed several sightings of pine marten in recent years, the first when I passed an old hollowed out tree which had been commandeered by one and which, at the arrival of me and my dogs, briefly caused consternation on the part of the marten.  So much so that it rattled around in panic for a few minutes before calming down. Several encounters later, pine marten sightings have been regular events with perhaps the highlight being the arrival of a female pine marten in the roof space of the house belonging to friend, which chose that human habitation as a nursery for her young. We ended up being right royally entertained that summer! The latest sighting this week was brief but heartening.

Like all carnivores and birds of prey, pine marten had, of course, been on the ‘hit list’ during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, regarded as ‘the enemy’ and mercilessly pursued and slaughtered. Hunting man came up with a particularly nasty way of eliminating martens. They would work to isolate them in trees, then light a bale of straw or other damp vegetation which would consequently emit lots of smoke.  A huntsman would scale the tree, the smoking bale mounted on a pole would be passed to him and it would be thrust at the trapped marten which blinded by the smoke and in not a little panic would fall from the tree into the jaws of waiting hounds. There was an easier method, of course, which was to have simply shot the martens!  Doubtless in their panic when pursued, the pine martens would have shrieked and growled, giving the impression that they were doughty opponents. Such things apparently counted with the huntsmen of the day!

Foxes, badgers and even hedgehogs were treated with such disdain and slaughtered wholesale. All that counted was the game, keepers were paid to protect. Thankfully times have changed although there are still those who given the chance, would maintain that level of persecution. Strange to think that the Ancient Greeks, actually kept beech marten – a close relative of the pine marten – as pets as a means of controlling rodent populations.

Such was the impact on pine marten that they came close to joining the polecat, the osprey and the sea eagle on the extinction list, just managing to hang on in small numbers in some of the remoter parts of the Highlands. Indeed, I well remember seeing pine marten on Ardnamurchan many years ago – a really rare sight.

In 1981 the pine marten at last received the protection of the law thanks to the Countryside Act of that year. Thus, began their slow recovery and eventually, the spread of pine marten across Scotland. Following their demise in areas such as this, another major change to have occurred was the introduction to Britain of the grey squirrel from America. The earlier generations of pine marten would clearly have not known grey squirrels at all but with a new generation able to extend its range, they soon encountered the alien greys – an unexpected bonus for them.

The grey squirrel has, of course, displaced the native red squirrel right across the country except in the Scottish Highlands. Grey squirrels do not kill reds but they out-compete the smaller animals for food sources. The grey is roughly twice the size of the native red and carries a disease called squirrel pox to which they are immune but which is deadly to reds. However, also being heavier than red squirrels, greys are slower and therefore easier to catch.  This has meant that expanding populations of pine marten, which found themselves in grey squirrel populated areas, enjoyed a real benefit.

I can confirm that when I first arrived here over forty years ago, this area was choc-a-bloc with grey squirrels. However, as more and more pine marten have established themselves locally during recent times, red squirrels have taken over the vacant territories of the greys. Of course, pine marten also take red squirrels but because squirrels are lighter, they are able to reach the branches which are unable to bear the weight of pine marten, therefore giving them a far better chance of surviving.

The fact that the pine marten is now being reintroduced to places such as the Forest of Dean in the south of England, where of course grey squirrels are completely dominant, acknowledges that they are able to do a job in controlling grey squirrel numbers. It is to be hoped that this new generation of martens will seriously reduce grey squirrel numbers there and that red squirrels can mount a recovery, albeit that this may require assistance from wildlife lovers to help them on their way such as their reintroduction.

Those, who in their wisdom, introduced grey squirrels to Britain, could not have known that this would have had such a deleterious effect upon red squirrels. However, now there is a chance to restore the balance with the spread of pine marten which it should be remembered has largely happened quite naturally. These arboreal mammals add another dimension to our wildlife and their presence is an added bonus for those for whom wildlife is such an important factor.

Such is the overall distribution of grey squirrels that reds are now excluded from vast swathes of the British countryside. The introduction of pine marten to key areas may help us in the longer term to re-establish red squirrels to the exclusion of greys and I cannot think of a more natural process. Introduce pine marten and in time perhaps, the red squirrel will once more reign supreme!


Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods