A pine marten, a rare cat-sized, stoat-like mammal usually found in Scotland and the north of England, has been spotted in London for the first time in a century.


The elusive animal was snapped by a hidden wildlife camera set up in a patch of woodlands in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, by the charity Zoological Society of London (ZSL) as part of the London HogWatch project, which aims to monitor the movements of the capital’s hedgehog population.

© Getty Images

“As part of our ongoing hedgehog monitoring work, we deploy camera traps across woodlands," said ZSL and London HogWatch Project research assistant, Kate Scott-Gatty.

"In this area, these are usually set off by the movement of common species such as foxes and badgers, so you can imagine our surprise at seeing a pine marten – a species usually only glimpsed in Scotland and northern England.”

Pine martens (martes martes) are easily recognisable thanks to their lush chestnut-brown coats, large searching eyes, long bushy tails and characteristic peach-coloured bibs.

© London HogWatch Project

They were once widespread across the UK, but the charismatic animals are now critically endangered in England and Wales with only some very small populations remaining in northern England, the New Forest and Wales.

“We don’t know how the pine marten – a species that’s most commonly found in the north of the country or Scotland – came to be in London, but we’ll continue to use the HogWatch cameras to see if there are any more individuals in the area and monitor their activity,” said Dr Chris Carbone, senior research fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

“The return of wildlife to an area can be positive, it might mean that habitat quality is improving, or natural food sources are increasing but it’s important we understand more. Any species reintroductions should only be carried out by professionals, with the appropriate checks in place – from assessing habitat suitability to screening for illnesses.”

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.