Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Could pine martens be mostly vegetarian? Research suggests so

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

New research claims pine martens are 'mostly vegetarian' - a statement many farmers are sure to disagree with

According to the Irish Wildlife Trust, dietary studies in Ireland have shown that the pine marten's diet is mostly plant-based with fruits, nuts and berries forming a significant proportion of their food.

“Pine martens also eat small mammals like field mice, bank voles, shrews, and the occasional squirrel. Birds and insects can also form part of the diet if the opportunity arises," its new research states.

It says pine martens in Ireland have adapted to live on a more plant-based diet relative to their European counterparts where there are greater numbers of small mammal species present.

“Pine marten are mostly active at night and very shy so a combination of scat (faeces) and hair tube surveys are used to collect evidence of these beautiful animals. Pine martens are small animals and pose no threat to humans or livestock."

The pine marten is a small cat-sized mammal related to badgers, stoats and otters and which is native to Ireland, but farmers have claimed that it has attacked small animals on their farms.

The pine marten is a small cat-sized mammal related to badgers, stoats and otters and which is native to Ireland.
The pine marten is a small cat-sized mammal related to badgers, stoats and otters and which is native to Ireland.

'Out of Control'

Some farmers in the midlands fear pine martens will attack and kill their sheep and lambs this winter as locals say the species is getting "out of control".

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Padraig Brady, a sheep farmer and north Longford Fine Gael representative says a pine marten recently killed two of his lambs and injured three others leaving him with a financial loss of €250.

"Nobody really cares about what they're costing the farmer, I didn't need to lose that money.

"Neighbours around me have lots more sheep and their losses are phenomenal. €800 worth of pheasants were killed down the road," he said.

"They're out of control in our area. They're in people's dust bins in the villages looking for food. They've been sighted three at a time," he said.


Now, a survey currently taking place at Abbeyleix Bog involves the use of baited hair-traps placed around the site to collect hair samples for DNA analysis.

The hair-trap consists of a piece of a plastic pipe tied vertically to a tree trunk. The inquisitive pine marten reaches inside the tube to remove the bait, and when doing so inadvertently deposits a hair sample on a sticky patch placed inside the tube.

The tubes are checked weekly by the team of citizen scientists and hair samples are removed and brought to Waterford Institute of Technology for DNA analysis to reveal the species, sex and individual animal. This will allow the team to establish the number of individual pine martens that call Abbeyleix Bog home.

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) Laois Offaly Branch joined forces with volunteers from the Abbeyleix Bog Project, BirdWatch Ireland Laois Branch and mammal expert Denise O’Meara from Waterford Institute of Technology recently to conduct mammal research at the Abbeyleix Bog, Co, Laois.

Ricky Whelan of the IWT Laois/Offaly branch says "it’s important that we counter the myths and sensationalism that has appeared in the media so that we can protect pine martens. They're an amazing part of our natural heritage and a good news conservation story."

Apart from establishing a baseline understanding of the various mammal populations associated with almost 300 hectares of natural habitat, the project aims to build capacity amongst local conservation volunteers to participate in citizen science based surveying and monitoring of mammals.

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