fbpx Our goal 15228 of 10,000 Add your voice

My ‘nature positive’ experience – Martes martes and me

26 May, 2023
Photo by © jchphoto.co.uk

The Pine Marten Recovery Project, delivered by The Vincent Wildlife Trust in Wales

Blog post written by poet, Susanne Iuppa, to inspire action for a Nature Positive Wales

I have always been a wild child. Growing up in the 1970s in the Lake Ontario wetland basin, I could run from my front door or back gate and start to follow a muddy, soft-fringed creek just 200 yards from the back of our housing development. The creek ringed our newly-built townhomes and separated the railroad tracks from a strip of linear mature woodland. Beyond this stretched several miles of grassland and old farmsteads. 

Barefooted, I would walk along the creek for hours and look at, sometimes stepping into, running water streaked with weed, and discover where to study tadpoles and dragonflies. I would trace it all the way back to a large pond full of frogs, snapping turtles and small fish. I can remember bringing large grass snakes I caught into school for Show N’ Tell (not recommended!) and raising blind sparrow hatchlings that had somehow fallen from their nest, until they fledged. 

If I got hungry when I was out playing, I would eat a snack of wild grapes or chew on a bottom of a pulled-up bullrush. Noone told me to do that, so I don’t know how I figured it out. Their starchy ends tasted just like a combination of celery and carrot. I spent hours hiding in trees, imagining I would collaborate with nature and bring in a rainstorm. I was completely wild!

I started writing when I was a teenager, but my connection with and devotion to nature never left me. I had a very early awareness of the concept of ‘animism’– all my surrounding natural landscapes and each plant, animal, and earth form were living. I have had no physical evidence, ever, in my life, of this not being true. 

I was lucky enough to progress to higher education and it was hard for me to choose between Biology and English Literature as my major at University. What happened was: I became a student Mum, never finished my English degree but later gained a B.Sc. in Countryside Management, happy in my role as single mother to three boys who were also raised the wild-child way as I worked as a ranger in the Clwydian Mountains. 

I fell in love– with British mustelids. The mammals from my youth: coyote, beaver, bear, long gone in Britian. I remember my surprise on learning most of the land in the UK National Park system is privately owned. But we have the richness of bird life in residents and migratory routes due to our Atlantic position. Our incredible invertebrates in rivers, heaths and meadows. Also, some still-left native mammals that can literally dig, dive and squeeze through most gaps away from us– otters, stoats, polecats, badgers and weasels. Martes martes– the elusive pine marten- is a member of this family. Our second rarest mammal. An opportunistic hunter, adapted for life in the trees. The pine marten is an ‘apex species’ or the sign of a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

It is a top predator that keeps other animals in population check and has evolved over millions of years with our red squirrels, voles and mice, birds and fungi and bees and berries, to promote good natural balance. I started connecting with mustelids through habitat survey of the river Alyn looking for otter sign, and studying that river for prey availability, during my undergraduate thesis. I was trained in otter survey techniques through The Vincent Wildlife Trust. Ten years later and working as a conservationist, I joined the volunteers at the Trust surveying Welsh woods for any signs of pine martens- scats, marks, even roadkill on verges. Local farmers reported they saw one in their woodland over 25 years ago or legend had it, fifty years ago, one was sighted in a remote crag by a gamekeeper…. these were the stories. 

The research at the Trust slowly built up a body of evidence that proved translocation of this animal (from Scotland, where pine martens had recovered in numbers and were even a tourist attraction in the Caledonian Forest) would be the only way for the species to be a natural part of our landscape again in southern Britain. Cwm Rheidol in West Wales has the right amount of habitat, prey availability and the least amount of threat (humans and road traffic) to provide safe haven. Another seven years later,  and one of the honours of my life was enabling partnership work and funding for this species reinforcement project to become reality, from 2014-2016. 

I have the deepest respect for the scientists at the Trust who outlined the public case for the first historic translocation of a carnivore in Britain, which has been hugely successful. Although 30% of animals moved from Scotland to Wales were lost to predation by fox or other natural causes, most survived and bred, finding territories to establish as homes in mid Wales and into England. The field work team who radio-tracked the martens and provided data on how the animals moved and adapted to their new environment, especially in that first bitter winter, unlocked the story of how a species relocation programme can connect people, again, with their ancestral wildlife. 

Everyone in schools, on farms, at local volunteer days building den boxes by hand, were excited about the progress of the native pine marten. I even found the house that I live in now, in the Dyfi Forest, tracking for martens! This good will extends to the marten’s natural habitats, which in turn, encourages locals- and tourists- to become more aware of how they interact with our living landscapes. We need to reconnect. Our first natural instinct, from childhood, is to wonder, value and protect wildlife.

Looking back, I don’t think we even needed to see a marten in the wild, to feel their presence. We know we might never. We just needed to know that Martes martes is there: thriving, protected, having young, keeping things in healthy balance, and that the recovery of Welsh wildlife is physically and spiritually possible.

Discover more about a Nature Positive Wales

You might also like

View all

New Role: Climate Cymru BAME Community Coordinator

Climate Action across Wales – November

View all

Protect what you love

Tell our leaders to protect the Wales we love from the climate and nature emergency. Send a giant ice heart to the Senedd to show them just how much you care.

Add your voice
Add your voice We use cookies

We use cookies to improve your experience and deliver personalized content. By using this website, you agree to our privacy policy.