Outcry over calls for removal of the pine marten’s protective status

Published by James Orr on

October 12th, 2017

The Irish Wildlife Trust has criticised calls from a Westmeath councillor to lift the protective status of the pine marten, one of Ireland’s rarest mammals.

The motion calls on the Heritage Minister Heather Humphries and the National Parks & Wildlife Service to take legal protection away from pine martens so that a controlled cull can take place.

Councillor Tom Farrell proposed the motion at September’s meeting of the Athlone Municipal District Council because of the “damage and upset this species is known to cause”.

The Irish Wildlife Trust, however, has condemned the move, expressing disappointment that some view the species as “little more than vermin which must be controlled”.

IWT Campaigns Officer Pádraic Fogarty said that it was “sad and dismaying” to see the Athlone Municipal District Council showing “such little tolerance” towards wildlife.

“The pine marten is not only a beautiful animal but is an important part of countryside ecosystems,” he said.

A recent paper published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation found a correlation between the recovery of pine martens and a fall in the numbers of the invasive grey squirrel in Ireland.

The team of Irish researchers found that pine martens play an important ecological role in protecting native species such as red squirrels.

The Green News asked both Councillor Farrell and Westmeath County Council if they had received any expert advice prior to the request to de-list pine martens, but neither responded by the time of publication.

Recovery from the Edge of Extinction

Pine martens were on the edge of extinction in Ireland before they were granted legal protection through the Wildlife Act in 1976.

They have also been included in Appendix III of the Bern Convention 1979 and Annex V of the EU Habitats Directive 1992.

This legal protection, combined with a gradual increase in tree cover in Ireland, has led to a slight recovery in the pine marten population.

Dr Declan O’Mahony, a wildlife ecologist, estimated that there were about 2,700 pine martens on the island in 2012.

Pine martens are omnivores, eating a range of food including berries, insects and carrion. They are solitary animals with large territories, meaning that their population never becomes too high.

Due to their secretive and arboreal lifestyle their Irish name is cat crainn, meaning tree cat.

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James Orr

James is The Green New's Biodiversity Reporter and a wildlife and landscape photographer based in Dublin. James has a BA in Zoology from TCD.