A confirmed sighting of a pine marten on Edington Moor has been reported to the Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) – the research charity which studies the wellbeing of British and Irish wild mammals.
According to the VWT, this is the first report of a Pine Marten in Somerset since human persecution resulted in the disappearance of the creatures from the whole of southern England by the end of the 18th century.
"I was driving home from Burtle across Edington Moor with my daughter Sarah," said Neil Champken, who reported the sighting.
"We knew immediately that it was something that we had not seen before. It was a little larger than a stoat, with longer legs and neck, a long bushy tail and a pure black face," said Mr Champken – who is the owner of the Somerset Cider Vinegar Company and lives on the Poldens.
"There are relatively strong populations of pine martens in the Scottish Highlands and West Wales but all the reports from England are in northern areas like the North York Moors, the Lake District and the Cheviots," said Lizzie Croose, project support officer for the VWT.
"This is the first recent sighting of a pine marten in southern England although there was a report of one in Hampshire about eight years ago," she said.
Pine martens are related to weasels and otters and their preferred habitat is woodland. They were hunted for their fur but gamekeepers have traditionally killed them because of their penchant for feeding on young game birds.
They are proficient woodland predators hunting voles, squirrels, birds and rabbits but they also have a taste for nuts, fruit and honey. Pine martens have enjoyed complete legal protection in Britain since 1988.
"We have to consider that a lone marten may be an escapee from a private collection but nobody has been able to tell me if such a thing exists locally," said Mr Champken.
The areas of woodland found on the Somerset Moors may be sufficient to support a small population of martens and there was some further encouragement when another Poldens man, Simon Vine, reported retrospectively that he was fairly certain that he saw a pine marten last spring in a copse on the edge of Edington.
Any readers lucky enough to see pine martens should report their sightings at www.vwt.org.uk where they will find a phone number or a pine marten sighting form.
The Mid Somerset Series can also report the successful return of another once persecuted, indigenous species to our area. In October 2007 we reported that dead polecats had been found on the Poldens and identified by the Somerset Otter Group. The VWT now confirm that since then polecats have re-established themselves in Somerset.
"The VWT conducted a polecat survey between 2004 and 2006 and we received three records from Somerset (from Norton St Philip, Catcott and Chew Stoke). We have certainly received more reports of people seeing polecats in Somerset in recent years and it appears that they have established themselves in the county," said Lizzie Croose.