DESPITE having written about Ireland’s pine martens as a print journalist it was nevertheless a surprise when I recently encountered one myself on a quiet country road.
I was driving my daughter home at around 9pm from a Cubs meeting in the picturesque Nire Valley in Co Waterford – a Nirvana for hillwalkers – when a long-tailed creature dashed in front of the car.
The long body, darkish fur and creamy neck were unmistakable, but I was able to confirm my theory when I got home through my nature bible, the Collins Complete Irish Wildlife.
Persecuted pine martens
I guess the experience should not have come as a surprise – I’ve written several articles about the re-emergence of this once-persecuted, cat-like creature across Ireland.
The fact that our local forests are populated with both grey and red squirrels (which feature on the pine marten’s list of things-to-eat) should also have flagged their potential presence. But I was still surprised.
Pine marten research
Researchers on both sides of the Irish border have been doing sterling work to track the rising number of pine martens over a number of years.
These relatively small animals were almost entirely wiped out by humans by the early 20th century, mainly for their fur and by gamekeepers protecting young game birds.
However, a 2013 study by researchers at NUI Galway found that numbers were on the rise in the midlands, and since then, there has been further evidence that the pine marten is officially making a comeback. There is a downside though.
Concerns for future
Last year, Dr Dave Tosh, of Quercus at Queens University Belfast told me that scientists were becoming increasingly concerned that the lack of suitable woodland habitat, particularly in Northern Ireland, could see the creatures seeking to make their nests in roof spaces etc, bringing them into close proximity with humans.
In the past, pine martens have also fallen foul of poultry owners because of the damage they can do to eggs and flocks. Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service has published a set of guidelines for those with concerns.
I’m not sure if I will ever see a pine marten again, but I did get a wonderful chance to see my words become a reality.