THERMAL-IMAGING technology is being used to identify Scotland’s expanding population of pine martens.

Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is trialling a technique using thermal imaging cameras, which are aimed at over 100 artificial den boxes in the Galloway Forest.

The cameras allow FLS to detect whether or not a den box is occupied without opening it and disturbing any animals inside.

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.

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Kim Kirkbride, an environment forester at FLS, 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.

The National: Pine martens have been increasing their range across Scotland Pine martens have been increasing their range across Scotland (Image: Forestry and Land Scotland)

“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”

Squirrel 'bouncers' 

The increase the range of pine martens is thought to have a beneficial impact on Scotland’s red squirrel population.

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Although pine martens are known to predate on red squirrels it is thought that grey squirrels are their preferred prey as they are heavier and less liable to escape.

Earlier this year FLS installed more than 35 artificial pine marten dens at strategic locations on Scotland’s east coast in an attempt to stop grey squirrels migrating further north into the Highlands.

The National:

Red squirrels are absent in much of the UK due to the encroachment of introduced grey squirrels, who carry the squirrelpox disease which is fatal to reds.

However, pine martens appear to act as squirrel ‘bouncers’ that eradicate grey squirrels while existing alongside reds in sustainable numbers.

Maintaining grey squirrel free landscapes in the Highlands is considered to be an important tool in re-establishing native woodlands as greys can strip bark from young trees, occasionally killing them.