Cake-eating pine martens thrive at underground power station
A clan of cake-eating pine martens, known as the "Loch Awe Four" are thriving at Scotland's underground power station.
The family of four has made itself at home at Cruachan, on the banks of Loch Awe near Oban.
The cat-sized creatures are one of the rarest mammals in Britain.
They have attracted the attention of some of the staff at Scottish Power's visitor centre, who have been feeding them home-made treats.
The adult pine martens run up to the visitor centre daily to collect food for their babies. They take whatever they find down to their den, before returning to eat more themselves.
They sometimes help themselves to leftovers on the outdoor picnic tables too, and even jumped on the tour bus that goes inside the underground power station.
Cafe assistant Shona Mcleman said: "There have been a few sightings over the years but this family in particular seem well and truly settled in now.
"We do put out leftovers for them on the patio but have had to warn visitors sitting outside to be on their guard, it's not unheard of for them to sneak up and pinch food from their plates if they're not keeping a close eye on their lunch."
Shona added: "They've been on the bus a few times now, but we can't take pine martens inside the mountain.
"The best way to get them off is with a trail of cake crumbs, that always does the trick."
Dr Maggie Keegan from the Scottish Wildlife Trust said, despite being almost extinct in England and Wales, pine martens were doing well in Scotland.
"It's been a bit of a success story," she said.
"In the 19th century they were nearly extinct, but in the north-west of Scotland there was a stronghold of about 1,500.
"Because they've had greater protection in Scotland from about 1988 through the Wildlife and Countryside Act they've actually expanded the range.
"They're charming creatures. The pine marten is about the size of a small cat with a slim brown body. It's from the weasel family and is very cute. It has a big bushy tail and prominent round ears."
- Related to weasels, mink, otters, badgers, wolverines and skunks
- About the same length as a house cat, they are very agile and can climb high up in the tree tops
- Pine martens and their dens are protected by law
Dr Keegan said it was fairly rare to catch a glimpse of the animals.
"I've only seen them once at a bed and breakfast in the north west of Scotland when someone was feeding them jam sandwiches in the evening," she added.
"They are actually a nocturnal species, but you see them in the day-time in summer when the mother is with the young.
"You should remember they are wild animals. They are carnivores and ferocious predators but they have a varied diet and fruit and berries are often the diet in autumn."
Built over 50 years ago, Cruachan's power station lies 1km below the ground with enormous turbines converting water from the nearby loch into electricity.