So, you’re climbing down into a narrow, deep, dark hole and suddenly, there in the blackness, you hear a shrill growling…
That’s the situation one of the mechanics up on Cairngorm found herself in this winter. During a lunchtime conversation with her she told us about how she was descending into an underground compartment to check the wiring for one of the ski tows which had mysteriously broken down. With a fellow mechanic watching through the manhole above her, she said the wiring looked chewed and that’s when, presumably, the owner of the teeth started growling at her. Understandably, she was keen to get out of there as soon as possible and it became apparent that the creature in question was one of the local pine martens!
This is certainly not unheard-of behaviour for pinemartens. They are well known for causing a fair bit of mess at their den locations and sometimes damage too. A closely related species in the Alps, the beech marten, is infamous for denning under warm car bonnets. There, they sometimes chew wires, insulation and pipes, causing huge amounts of damage.
High up in a Scottish ski area isn’t perhaps the first place to think of for pine marten habitat. These animals are more frequently known in Britain as forest specialists, but they are actually quite adaptable. In this case, there was obviously welcome shelter and food items available and probably not much threat from predators or competition with other martens. To me it is also an encouraging sign that the gradual forest regeneration in the Cairngorms is progressing. This animal had set up home at an altitude of over 600m (1800ft), which represents the natural treeline in the UK. Therefore, it wouldn’t have to travel far to find forest birds, eggs, invertebrates, fungi and fruit. However, going higher would also allow it to exploit mountain prey such as red grouse eggs and chicks, small mammals, invertebrates and the fruits of alpine plants. But hopefully not mechanics.