CONSERVATIONISTS could soon reintroduce pine martens to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley.

Pine martens are members of the weasel family and are Britain’s second rarest carnivore.

They are mostly found in Scotland but they were abundant in the Forest when the Dean Forest Railway was built, but were eradicated from much of the country by Victorian gamekeepers.

But now Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, The Vincent Wildlife Trust, and the Forestry Commission, are collaborating on a project to explore the feasibility of reintroducing the rare mammal.

The mammals live in woodlands and their main prey are small mammals.

They also have a broad and varied diet, eating large quantities of berries when in season.

Dr Andrew Stringer, project manager, said: “The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley could support a maximum population of just under 200 pine martens. Pine martens may be at risk of being killed by foxes and road traffic.

“However, road density in the Forest of Dean and lower Wye Valley is comparable with areas of the Netherlands which have healthy pine marten populations.”

But the key risk to wildlife in the Forest of Dean is the potential disturbance of bat roosts within buildings by pine martens looking for den sites."

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A decision will be made about whether to reintroduce pine martens will be made later this year.