Ministry of Defence use pine martens to control the grey squirrel population

Ministry of Defence use pine martens to control the grey squirrel population

The Ministry of Defence has joined the fight against grey squirrels. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) has installed pine marten den boxes at the Kirkcudbright Training Area. Non-native grey squirrels have displaced reds on the Balmae area of the site near Dundrennan but research has shown where pine martens are encouraged the more cautious reds flourish.

There is evidence of migratory pine marten activity in the area and it is hoped that installing six den boxes will encourage a permanent population.

Deputy training safety officer at the range Scott Maclean said: “Looking after our land and wildlife is extremely important to DIO. We’re hopeful this will make a real difference to the ecology of the area by encouraging the return of native red squirrels.

“We’ll be monitoring the pine marten den boxes using trail cameras and if this initiative is successful, we’d like to expand it to more of Kirkcudbright Training Area.”

Stephanie Johnstone, head of the Dumfries and Galloway Pine Marten Group, said: “We are delighted to be working with the MOD at the Kirkcudbright Training Area.

“The site is actively managed by the MOD to improve biodiversity and the extensive area contains a unique mosaic of habitats that provide opportunities for pine martens and many other species to thrive.

“The installation of den boxes at the Kirkcudbright Range will benefit pine martens by providing them with a safe place to over winter and breed, replicating the scarce natural resource of large tree cavities within the landscape.

“Pine martens suppress invasive non-native grey squirrels at the landscape scale and the establishment of a pine marten population on the range will help support the existing on-site efforts to remove grey squirrels for the protection of the local native red squirrel population.

“The MOD staff at Kirkcudbright have been enthusiastic in their support of our goal to assist the recovery of this native predator in Dumfries and Galloway and we look forward to continuing to collaborate with the local MOD team in the years ahead.”

There are other plans to rejuvenate the Balmae lake area of the site. DIO staff and workers from Landmarc Support Services have been removing non-native plants in a bid to increase insect species.

They’ve also removed scrub to allow more light to reach the forest floor and have improved the path around the lake and added a small picnic area to encourage responsible public access.

And there are plans to reintroduce native fish species, such as brown trout, after Canadian pond weed was removed and a new sluice gate was installed.

This article by Stuart Gillespie was first published by The Daily Record on 31 January 2022. Lead Image: Pine martens are natural predators of squirrels. (Image: Iain Leach Photography).

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