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A black and white image of a wooden box in trees with a light in the box

Specially-designed thermal imaging cameras are being used to identify an increasing population of pine martens.

Our South Region is currently trialling an innovative technique using thermal imaging cameras to survey over 100 artificial den boxes in Galloway Forest.

Trials have been taking place over the past year and have showed positive results for monitoring the local pine marten population. We hope to use this technology at other sites across Scotland to help monitor pine marten on both a local and national level.

The thermal imaging camera allows staff to detect a heat source in the pine marten den boxes. Being able to survey year round is especially helpful during crucial periods such as in spring when pine marten kits are born and in winter when den boxes are used for shelter in harsh weather.

In the past, we would manually check the dens, which required opening each box to check for occupancy. This can cause stress for the pine martens housed inside. Using the non-invasive thermal imaging camera can help us remotely monitor how many den boxes are in use without disturbing the inhabitants.

This 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.

Kim Kirkbride, Environment Forester in south region, 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. What’s even better is that we can monitor the den boxes at a safe distance, so we are not disturbing any occupants."

We also rely on recordings of local sightings from members of the public. Visitors can report sightings to the relevant environmental team or our local regional team. You can find their contact information here.

Earlier this year we installed artificial pine marten dens along the east coast of Scotland to help ward off advancing grey squirrels in the region. This technology could potentially be used in regions such as this to monitor the new population growth.


Pine marten and red squirrels 

The increase in pine marten numbers has also had a positive, knock-on, impact for red squirrels.

Pine martens and red squirrels happily coexist in parts of Scotland. Whilst squirrels do feature in the diet of pine martens, grey squirrels are the preferred prey. It is thought that red squirrels have evolved to be smaller and lighter than grey squirrels, so they can use smaller branches that heavier pine martens cannot access, increasing their chances of escape.

Learn more about pine martens: