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Thermal Imaging Trials Capture Growth Of Galloway Pine Marten Population

Specially-designed thermal imaging cameras are being used to identify an increasing population of pine martens in Dumfries and Galloway.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is trialling innovative technique using thermal imaging cameras to capture the occupancy of over 100 artificial den boxes in Galloway Forest.

Trials have been taking place over the past year and have showed positive results for monitoring the local pine marten population. FLS aims to use this technology at other sites across Scotland to help monitor pine marten on both a local and national level.

The thermal imaging camera enables FLS to detect a heat source in the pine marten den boxes all year round, especially during crucial periods such as in spring when pine marten kits are born and also in winter when den boxes are used for shelter in harsh weather.

Manually examining dens requires opening each box to check for occupancy, which can cause stress for the pine martens housed inside. Using the non-invasive thermal imaging camera allows FLS to remotely monitor how many den boxes are in use without disturbing the inhabitants.

The new technology has recorded a significant increase in the local pine marten population over the past year. This has been attributed to a number of factors including the installation of den boxes and good forest management, as well as an increase in voles in the area – one of the main food sources for pine marten.

Kim Kirkbride, Environment Forester at Forestry and Land Scotland, said:

“We have seen the most productive year for pine marten kits being born in Galloway Forest. Having a bountiful food supply means more pine martens are able to produce offspring.
“The new thermal imaging technology ensures we can identify how many den boxes are in use over crucial times of the year. What’s even better is that we can monitor the den boxes at a safe distance, so we are not disturbing any occupants.
“Although this is just one of the methods used to monitor pine marten numbers – we also rely on recordings of local sightings from members of the public – monitoring via thermal imaging has proven to be very successful and it is likely we will employ the technology at other FLS sites across Scotland”

The increase in pine marten numbers has also had a positive, knock-on, impact for red squirrels. Pine martens and red squirrels happily coexist in parts of Scotland. Whilst squirrels do feature in the diet of pine martens, grey squirrels are the preferred prey. It is thought that red squirrels have evolved to be smaller and lighter than grey squirrels, so they can use smaller branches that heavier pine martens cannot access, increasing their chances of escape.

Earlier this year FLS announced the installation of artificial pine marten dens along the east coast of Scotland to help ward off advancing grey squirrels in the region.