Fermanagh pine martens boost red squirrel population

THE presence of pine martens is surging in Fermanagh and across the North, with the unique red squirrel benefitting most from the increase.

Pine martens are considered to be one of Northern Ireland’s rarest native mammals, but Ulster Wildlife said the priority species is undergoing a “phenomenal resurgence”, with numbers having almost doubled in five years.

Ulster Wildlife’s 2022 survey of pine martens and squirrels was carried out across 218 woodlands in Northern Ireland using camera traps and feeders with participation from 15 partners including National Trust and Mourne Heritage Trust.


It found that pine martens were present in almost double the number of sites compared to a previous survey five years ago. They continue to thrive in Fermanagh and are now present in all six counties.

“Fermanagh has been the stronghold for both pine martens and red squirrels for a number of years due to the expanse of native woodland,” Katy Bell of Ulster Wildlife said.

“Pine martens were once very rare and it is great to see them spreading across Northern Ireland.”

The pine marten’s recovery will also boost red squirrel populations, which were previously decimated by the introduction of grey squirrels from North America in the 19th Century.

Grey squirrels can carry the squirrelpox virus, which is not harmful to them, but is usually over 90 per cent fatal for reds and can devastate the red squirrel population rapidly.

However, new research from Queen’s University Belfast shows differing responses from both squirrel species when exposed to pine marten scent.

Grey squirrels do not change their behaviour or become more vigilant, therefore leaving them more vulnerable to the predator. This is known as “the pine marten effect”.


It is likely a response to red squirrels sharing a landscape with pine martens over a long period of time, with grey squirrels being relative newcomers to the threat that the pine marten poses.

“Red squirrels are thriving in the county without the presence of grey squirrels. The pine martens are doing a great job in keeping them away,” Ms Bell said. “Ten years ago Fermanagh was full of grey squirrels and it is now grey squirrel free.”

Considered one of Northern Ireland’s rarest native mammals, the pine marten is a cat-sized carnivore related to the stoat.

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