Pine martens could return to Forest of Dean after 200-year absence

Pine marten Image copyright Maramedia/BBC Scotland
Image caption The rare animals were driven to extinction in Gloucestershire by Victorian gamekeepers

Pine martens could be reintroduced into the Forest of Dean after an absence of 200 years.

Andrew Stringer, from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, said it has the "perfect habitat" for the mammals, which could be "beneficial" in reducing grey squirrel numbers.

A feasibility study is being carried out by trust and Forestry Commission.

If the reintroduction goes ahead, 60 pine martens would be released over three years from next spring.

According to Mr Stringer, pine martens were driven to extinction in Gloucestershire by Victorian gamekeepers.

"They're our second rarest carnivore but it really wasn't that long ago - a couple of hundred years ago - that they were abundant here," he said.

"Reintroducing them and establishing a population would be fantastic for their conservation status in the UK."

A feasibility study is being carried out to check for "suitable habitats" in the forest and ensure "abundant populations" of the animal's prey.

It is also ensuring pine martens will not have "any detrimental effects" on the area.

'Grey squirrel control'

"On the face of it, the Forest of Dean looks like prime habitat for pine martens," Mr Stringer said.

"They eat what's most common, for instance grey squirrels and wood pigeons, and because they're impacting on those really common species they let rarer species thrive.

"If we've got the support of the local communities, then we'd be looking to reintroduce 20 pine martens per year over a three-year period and that should create a stable population."

A final decision is due to be made early next year.

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