Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Martes martes – pine marten

Martes martes

Martes martes L.1758
Family: Mustelidae

The pine marten is one of Northern Ireland’s most elusive animals. It was once widespread but habitat loss and persecution by gamekeepers and fur trappers, in the nineteenth century, have greatly reduced the range of this species. Pine marten are most likely to be found in coniferous and mixed woodland. They are active mainly at night but can also be seen during the day.

In brief

  • Found in all counties of Northern Ireland
  • Rarely seen
  • Prefers coniferous or mixed woodland
  • Active mainly at night but can be seen during the day
  • Listed as a UK Priority species
  • Main threats to the population are loss of habitat and road traffic accidents

Species description
Pine martens are members of the weasel family and are related to otters, badgers, stoats, weasels and mink. They are about the size of a small cat; males are larger than females. The body is slim, with relatively long legs. The fur is dark brown, except for the “bib” (throat and chest) which is creamy yellow. The face is pointed with very obvious, upright ears. The dark brown tail is long, thick and bushy. Pine martens are very agile and can easily climb trees using their long sharp claws.

Life cycle
Pine martens are carnivores and will eat anything they can catch. They will also take carrion, eggs, fruit, nuts and fungi. Females are usually three years old before they have young. Mating takes place in the autumn; the fertilized eggs are stored inside the mother’s body and do not implant and start to grow until the following spring. The nest or den is usually a hole in a tree or a rock cavity. Young pine martens are born in late March or early April. Like kittens and puppies, they are deaf, blind and completely helpless at birth.

Similar species
At a glance, pine martens can be confused with American mink. It is, however, easy to distinguish the two species. Pine martens have longer legs than mink and are more cat-like in shape. Mink have a long, slinky body, thin tail and blunt face with small rounded ears and often a small white patch on the chin. Pine martens have bushy tails, sharp pointed faces, upright, triangular ears and a large, creamy-yellow chest.

How to see this species
Pine martens are very secretive animals and are rarely seen. One of the few places to catch sight of this beautiful animal is in Crom Estate, County Fermanagh.

Current status
A recent survey has found that fragmented, populations are present in all counties of Northern Ireland. The total number of animals present is not known.

  • Listed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985
  • Listed in Schedule 3 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010
  • Listed in Annex III of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention)
  • Listed in Annex V (Animal and Plant Species of Community Interest in Need of Strict Protection) of the EC Habitats Directive
  • Listed in Schedule 3 of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Listed as a UK Priority species
  • It is an Irish Red Data Book species and classed as internationally important

Threats/Causes of decline
In the past, pine martens were widespread across all counties of Northern Ireland. Destruction of woodland and persecution by gamekeepers has resulted in a decrease in the range of this species. Increased road traffic appears to be the biggest threat to the survival of our fragmented populations of pine martens.

  • Habitat loss
  • Accidental death due to road traffic

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • None known

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain existing viable pine marten populations
  • Expand existing viable pine marten populations

What you can do
To report pine marten sightings to CEDaR, Telephone 028 9039 5264 or email

Further information

Joint Nature Conservative Committee (JNCC) priority species page

NBN Gateway: Pine Marten (Martes martes) grid map

An assessment of the conservation status of the pine marten (Martes martes) in Northern Ireland

National Pine Marten Survey of Ireland

Northern Ireland's Mammals, Amphibians & Reptiles

Pine Martens - The Vincent Wildlife Trust


Text written by:
Angela Ross

iNaturalist: Species account : iNaturalist World Species Observations database