Reflections: 5th May 2020 - The pine marten mystery

Pine marten (Martes martes), Black Isle, Scotland. 4-5 month old kit ©Terry Whittaker/2020VISION. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or www.nature.scot

A video appeared recently (30th April 2020) of a pine marten in Sandbanks, between Poole and Bournemouth in Dorset. You can see the video here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-dorset-52472172/pine-marten-footage-is-thought-to-be-first-dorset-sighting

There were a number of strange things about this which make the sighting a real mystery. Why is this a mystery? Well, for a start, it is probably the first sighting of a pine marten in Dorset in living memory, they have long since disappeared from this part of the world. It is also a woodland species and whilst there are conifers around Sandbanks it could hardly be considered to be a woodland area! The pine marten is also primarily nocturnal and this one was seen in broad daylight and, add to that, they are very nervous creatures and this one was amongst houses. It is also strange that there was just this one sighting by one person who happened to have a video camera at the ready just at the right time.

There could be a number of ways a pine marten could be seen and recorded on video in Sandbanks but none seem really credible to me. One thing is pretty certain, this was not a wild animal that had strayed into town even if the roads are quiet during the coronavirus 'lockdown'. The nearest wild population I believe is a small colony from a reintroduction project somewhere in the New Forest; a pine marten somewhere around the north of Highcliffe could possibly be considered from this programme but in Sandbanks? No, it is just not a reasonable proposition.

Another possibility that it is a misidentification and was not a pine marten but a polecat or something similar can be discounted too as wildlife 'experts' (Chris Packham amongst them) have confirmed that it is certainly a pine marten. The video is pretty clear and well defined so misidentification can surely be ruled out. In a similar vein I think a hoax can be dismissed too; even with today's modern video editing tools superimposing a film of a pine marten in a woodland setting onto a fence in Sandbanks? 

One has to conclude that this is a captive animal that escaped from someone's 'care' but who keeps pine martens in Sandbanks? No one has come forward to claim the animal as theirs. However, remember that it has only been seen the once and by one person who had a video camera ready and was eager to share the video with the BBC. I smell a rat, or should that be pine marten? It is certainly a mystery! 

[Photo: A Scottish pine marten from the Nature Scotland website - https://www.nature.scot/plants-animals-and-fungi/mammals/land-mammals/pine-marten]

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