Secret Plans to cull pine martens from woods are fiercely opposed

A leaked plan by Scotland’s hunting lobby to remove pine martens from ­­woodlands throughout the highlands has sparked fierce opposition from wildlife groups which suspect landowners of planning a cull to protect their lucrative grouse stocks.


 The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), a charity funded by landowners, farmers and sporting interests, wants to launch a trial next year to trap and relocate pine martens, which are protected under law as an endangered species.
But the plan has been condemned as “deeply flawed” by experts who fear it could open the door to the widespread killing of pine martens. It has also been rejected by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which owns two of the woodlands where the trial had been proposed.

A six-page internal document drawn up by GWCT scientists discloses a plan to get rid of 120 pine martens over six years from four Strathspey forests. It promises to release any females caught in traps “on welfare grounds” if they are suckling young.

Three of the forests – Rothiemurchus, Glenmore and Inshriach are owned by the Forestry Commission and one – Kinveachy – by the 13th Earl of Seafield. GWCT had to abandon plans to use two other woodlands – Abernethy and Craigmore – because of opposition from their owner, the RSPB.

“Whilst humane killing of captured martens may be the ­easiest option, we intend to make martens available for wider marten conservation programs,” the leaked document says. “These may include reintroduction programmes to England and Wales.”

The purpose of the trial is to test whether martens are harming the prospects of another endangered species, capercaillie, by eating their eggs and chicks. These birds have declined from 20,000 in 1970 to about 1200, many of which share ­Strathspey woodlands with martens.

But conservationists suspect ­ulterior motives. They point out that landowners and gamekeepers have been increasingly pushing for the right to cull pine martens in order to protect red grouse so they can be shot for sport.

The Mammal ­Society, which promotes science- based conservation, has written to the Government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), expressing “deep concern” about the proposed trial. Evidence in support of it was poor, the society said, and there were no organisations willing to take any relocated martens.

“If this trial were to go ahead it is very likely to generate immense negative publicity both for SNH and the Scottish Government, not just within the UK but internationally,” the society concluded. “This will be particularly vociferous if the fate of the removed pine martens is to be culled. It will also greatly damage the reputation of Scotland as a destination for wildlife tourism.”

One of letter’s authors was the chairman of the Mammal Society and a leading pine marten specialist, Dr Johnny Birks. “Instead of pursuing a flawed scheme to remove it, we should be celebrating the marten’s return to Speyside,” he said.

“Unlike our Victorian ancestors, thankfully we now understand that predation is a natural component of healthy ecosystems. Pine martens have coexisted in a stable predator-prey balance with capercaillie in forests across northern Europe for thousands of years.”

Pine marten predation is a peripheral factor in the ­capercaillie’s decline, Birks argued. ­”Predators frequently influence the breeding success of their prey, but this is a natural process and should not be used to justify the removal of one protected species to protect another.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, dismissed the proposed trial as inappropriate and unnecessary. “We have not agreed to this happening on any RSPB Scotland nature reserves,” he said. “We are proud that martens and capercaillie are found in our forests.”

In the leaked document, GWCT claims the backing of the Forestry Commission and SNH for its trial and says the Cairngorms National Park Authority “may” be a partner. But all these agencies told the Sunday Herald they had yet to decide whether or not to go ahead with removing martens.

Hamish Trench, the park authority’s conservation director, said there were “significant questions” about a trial removal of pine marten. The Forestry Commission insisted the idea was still being developed, and SNH said it was too early to take a view “on the merits of the work”.

The GWCT argued that there was a need to better understand how predation was affecting the long-term survival of capercaillie. “We take this threat to a splendid iconic Scottish bird very seriously and are discussing what form this research might take,” a spokeswoman said.

This article was first published by the HeraldScotland and was written by By Rob Edwards Environment Editor

Added Notes. 

The SGA were calling for a cull in 2012:
“In February 2012 the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association called upon Scottish Natural Heritage to allow the licensed culling of pine martens to reduce their numbers in order to save the capercaillie.”

24 comments to Secret Plans to cull pine martens from woods are fiercely opposed

  • Albert Ross

    Enough is enough. I am not prone to angry outbursts but this stupidity sorely tries my patience with all the sporting people of the UK. What next? Ospreys for taking trout? Herons? Otters?
    The sporting interests seem to forget that the Capercaillie was extinct in Britain by 1785 (I wonder how that came about?)and had to be re-introduced in 19th Cent. It thrived and was shot for sport and is now in decline once more. I wonder how that has come about?
    But don’t please blame the sporting interests. Look around instead for something else to ‘cull’.
    For once it is pleasing to see RSPB taking a responsible role. The once Public body, the Forestry Commission, who created those plantations with public money should follow suit.

    • The only people to mention a cull is the Media, The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) want to to trial a relocation program, suddenly everyone is shouting and screaming that its going to be open season on pine marten.

      Editor’s Comment. Robert, if the truth be known the Pine Marten is already illegally trapped in Scotland on many sporting estates already.

      • Editor, If that is the case it is a criminal matter and proof needs to be provided to the appropriate authorities the fact is that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trusts proposal has been misreported and called a cull when no cull was ever mentioned

      • Katie

        Why is it only the media! Rhetorical! Because no one else was aware!!!!!

    • Albert, Here is a link to the letter to The Herald from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

  • Katie

    More culling?

    Where will this all end! Can’t the “rich” find more productive things to do with all the time they have to spare! …..digging drains perhaps!

  • Jeff

    The SGA were calling for a cull in 2012:
    “In February 2012 the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association called upon Scottish Natural Heritage to allow the licensed culling of pine martens to reduce their numbers in order to save the capercaillie.”

  • That’s right Robert, a relocation, like what the Nazis in the 40’s did to the Jews

    • And that is your view on the matter is it David to compare the two is not only narrow minded but quite offensive if you do not have anything constructive to add I always find it better to say nothing at all.

  • Trapit

    I like Pine Martens,until a recent house move I had a brace of them stuffed.I am also a GWCT supporter but not convinced of the wisdom of this proposal mainly on PR grounds. However there are studies showing ground predators (and Goshawks) can have quite negative effects on woodland grouse in Northern Europe.This is not another “rich people and their grouse moors”situation,any research would benefit thousands of acres of Capercaillie habitat that will never be shot over .Incidentally do not forget it was wealthy Scottish landowners who planted the estate woodlands we see today and reintroduced the Capercaillie offering it protection while Forestry Commission workers were encouraged to stamp on any eggs they found because of the birds fondness for young pine shoots

    • nirofo

      Unlike in the UK where the majority of predators have been wiped out by the shooting fraternity and others, animals and birds like the Pine/Beech Marten and Goshawks are still relatively common in most parts of Europe and still manage to get along with other indigenous wildlife even after thousands of years influence by humans. What the gamekeepers would like everyone to believe is that in order for our native cuddly wildlife to survive we need to rid ourselves of the nasty predators preying on our cuddly wildlife. The fact is, what they really mean is they want to get rid of all the predators because they are preying on their so-called game birds and don’t really give a damn about the other wildlife. Take the Hares for example, they are killing and dumping these wonderful creatures in their thousands just so they don’t interfere with their Red Grouse shooting, they have several well coined excuses for doing this but in reality what it means is they’ll kill anything they think might interfere with their shooting !!!

  • Jeff

    Wasn’t it hunting which was mainly responsible for the extinction of the Caper in the 18th century?

    • nirofo

      In a word, “YES”.

      • nirofo

        Sorry, I need to amend that reply which unfortunately means I have to use more words. The biggest responsibility lies with the Victorian and Edwardian era shooting fraternity in the 19th and early 20th century. Having said that it’s debatable whether the Victorian era ever ended judging by the amount of wildlife persecution that’s taking place now in the 21st century.

  • Trapit


    • nirofo

      You’re right Trapit, it is unbelievable that wildlife persecution and environment degradation on the shooting estates is as bad now as it was in the Victorian era !!!

  • Albert Ross

    Thanks Robert.
    Having read the article it provides little comfort to me. I am old enough and wise enough (I hope) to understand what is being said. Granted there is no mention of ‘culling’ in the original article so maybe the blame for my use of the word could be laid at the door of the noble editor of this piece? However I think he thinks as I do and knows full well what is involved.
    I know two other things too. Predators are necessary to the preservation of healthy stocks of ‘prey’ but man would like to take over that role for monetary reasons.

    And if that was not enough we were told only last month that a Keeper in Northumberland wants a licence to cull Buzzards and not just trap and relocate because relocation does not work.
    Refresh my memory. Which organisation was it that is funding his application for a Judicial Review?
    Methinks he doth protest his innocence too loud!
    Enough is enough. Leave the Pine Marten alone! As an indigenous species it has a perfect right to be there. As King George famously said “the wildlife of today is not ours to dispose of as we please! We must account for it to those who come after!”
    For younger readers, that was the “banner” of the good old Shooting Times to which I subscribed for many years.
    But ‘we’ never ever advocated culling. We took our losses as part of the price to pay for having naturally balanced wildlife.

  • well said Albert, I think no matter what we write on this subject, the gamekeepers wont be happy until all of our indigenous predators are gone, its sad but its not going to change untill will ALL stand up to them and change the law for ever. and as for getting forest workers to stamp on eggs he has now lost the plot I work with the forestry commission ecology department on Goshawk protection, and trust me they dont tell their workers to destroy any Capercaillie eggs.this keeper is not on our planet……

  • paul williams

    The sooner you lot realise that anyone in government gives a fuck about our wildlife the better…MP’s are governed by the corporations that back there sleazy existence…Get it…

  • Trapit

    Most of the people entering comments to this site have a genuine desire to see an improvement in the fortunes of our native british wildlife .Myself included. However many of these submissions seem hastily thought out,often suffer from emotional outbursts,and frequently follow the same thread,with successive authors almost congratulating each other on their put down of somebody they disagree with .I myself have long realised that emotional outbursts rarely do the cause of wildlife any great service,though that is not to decry those who think otherwise. My comments are usually formed from my own experience and observations.If this is not the case I take the trouble to refer to a reliable source.Regarding my recent detractors on this and other subjects I suggest first of all they realise when somebody is writing in the past tense,next consult a basic English history to learn when the Victorian era actually began.They should then consult the New Naturalist “Grouse” by Adam Watson and Robert Moss, where the first two pages of the chapter on Capercaillie should rectify any doubts they may have on the accepted reasons for the birds last extinction in these islands. I admit here to an error on my part by not making it clear that private estates as well as the Forestry Commission once treated the bird as vermin,however the attraction and financial benefits of Caper shooting helped secure their future at least until the most recent declines.Just one footnote Mr Bastin many years ago i showed a fledgeling FC employee what I believe was his first Goshawk nest,he thanked me for imparting what little knowledge I had at the time,and said he hoped to become an expert on the species . Who knows he may be one of the ecologists you speak so highly of ?