The Pine Marten | Field signs

Identifying features

The pine marten has a slim body and a long tail that is thick and bushy in its winter coat. Rich brown fur contrasts with a creamy-yellow ‘bib’ on the throat and chest and pale fur within the prominent, rounded ears. The main body colour of the pine marten varies seasonally: its thick, mid-brown winter coat becomes shorter and darker in summer.

Compared with most of its close relatives in Britain, the pine marten has a more pronounced snout and relatively long legs. Adult pine martens are similar in size to a small to medium-sized domestic cat with males approximately one third larger than females. The pine marten is extraordinarily agile and is a very confident climber.

If you think you have seen a pine marten in England and Wales, please report your sighting here.

Scats

Length: 4 cm – 12 cm
Width: 0.8 cm – 1.8 cm

Pine marten scats can look a lot like fox droppings, and without a DNA test it can sometimes be tricky to tell the difference. The ideal pine marten scat is dark and coiled (martens have a curious custom of hip wiggling while scatting, which produces this distinctive shape). Scent can be a valuable aid in detection as pine marten scats tend to have a musty sweet scent that is not unpleasant. Common scent comparisons include: floral, damp hay, and bizarrely parma violets. Fox scats on the other hand are often pungent and tend to be larger than pine marten scats.

Despite being classified as carnivores, martens are highly opportunistic animals with a varied diet and will eat what is locally plentiful. This may include small mammals, fruit, birds, eggs, insects and carrion. As a result, scats can contain fur, feathers or the delicate bone fragments of field voles. Occasionally you may even find brightly coloured blue or red scats, evidence that a marten has been eating a lot of bilberry or rowan berry.

If you do think you have found a pine marten scat, please collect and freeze it and then contact the Trust.

Footprints

Females: 4 cm x 4.5 cm
Males: 5.5 cm x 6.5 cm
Stride length: 50 cm – 80 cm

Whilst surveying for scats, it is also a good opportunity to spot pine marten footprints. Dogs and foxes have four toes, but mustelids like badger, stoat, otter, mink and pine marten all have five toes. Some of the best times to look for footprints are in the snow and in fresh mud following rain.

If you think you have spotted a marten footprint, please take a photo with something for scale (this could be as simple as a pencil, coin or mobile phone) and send it to enquiries@vwt.org.uk.

Den sites

Pine martens like to utilise woodland habitats, but they will also live in scrub, rocky areas and crags; the latter giving them a chance to use their climbing agility. Pine martens prefer to rest and breed above ground and frequently den in tree cavities, squirrel dreys and wind-throw. They will also use purpose-built den boxes and owl boxes.

Evidence of martens can often be gathered around den sites. Pine martens will often bring back prey to their den to cache. This is particularly prevalent when a female has young because the same den site is used for a long period of time. If you suspect a den site is being used by a marten, keep an eye out for bird feathers, small mammal bones and the remains of half-eaten larger prey items.

Pine martens have evolved to use tree cavities as den sites for breeding. With a growing lack of old trees, they resorted to alternatives such as dense thickets, craggy outcrops and even ground level root bowls, but they are all quite difficult to find. The VWT’s artificial den box has had success in terms of providing an alternative den site for the pine marten; and one that can be monitored.

Instructions for constructing, erecting and monitoring pine marten den boxes are available here.

Camera traps

Some of the Trust’s most exciting evidence of pine martens comes through the use of camera traps. These are motion activated cameras that are left out in the field to capture photos or video of visiting martens.

Video footage is the best way to check on the body condition of any martens and also record interesting natural behaviour. We can establish whether the marten on camera is male or female, an adult or juvenile.

The Trust is currently running a camera trap loan scheme, where we are providing cameras to individuals who live or work in an area where there may be pine martens. As we remove the radio-collars from our translocated animals, we hope to keep track of each marten through community involvement in this scheme.

If you have a photograph of a pine marten or are interested in hosting a camera trap please contact us

Hair tubes

Evidence of pine martens can also be detected using ‘hair-tubes’. These are sections of plastic pipe (wide enough for a marten to squeeze through) placed vertically on a tree trunk and then baited. A marten will enter at the bottom of the tube and brush past a small patch of sticky tape that will collect hair. Any hair collected can be identified using microscopic examination or DNA analysis (this can also establish which individual marten it is).

There are also other hair sampling devices starting to be utilised in the field, including squirrel feeders modified with sticky patches under the lid: when the marten lifts the lid to eat the peanuts its head touches the sticky patches.

A video guide on how to make, mount and monitor pine marten hair tubes is available to watch on The Vincent Wildlife Trust YouTube channel.