Return of the Super Stoat

The Scottish people want them back” – A  photo story from SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

Images by Peter Cairns

Scotland’s rich oceanic boreal forest, a mosaic of woodland and open glade, once stretched from summit to shoreline. In the temperate west, mosses and lichens dripped from gnarly oaks and in the drier, colder east, birch, rowan and aspen gave way to the dominant Scots pine, which laid a carpet of green across the post-glacial landscape. This complex ecosystem was home to an abundance of life: wolves, bears, lynx, boar and beavers all made their living from this forest. Not now. Today, most of the animals are gone and for the most part, so is the forest itself. Burned, bitten and bludgeoned into submission, only 2% of Scotland’s land area is now under native woodland, one of the lowest percentages across the whole of Europe.


The fragmentation of Scotland’s Great Wood provides an unlikely foundation for any wildlife comeback, let alone a species primarily reliant on trees. Heavily persecuted for its predation of game birds and deprived of its natural forest home, the Pine marten has for centuries, been a rare sight across the Scottish Highlands. But now, protected by law and afforded sanctuary in a forest that is slowly clawing its way back, this cat-sized stoat is staging a remarkable recovery.


Scotland, for the most part at least, now values its non-human citizens, even those that were traditionally reviled, very differently than in the past. Legislation and habit considerations aside, Pine martens are bouncing back because the Scottish people want them back. Such a shift in societal attitudes has also fuelled the return of ospreys and red kites, sea eagles and more recently, beavers. Few species however, have turned from villain to hero as quickly as the Pine marten.


Across Europe the marten’s story is mirrored by wild boar, chamois, cranes, sea eagles, whooper swans and even lynx, bears and wolves, all returning to places where they’ve not been seen for decades, centuries even. Here in Scotland this shy and elusive denizen of the pine forest shines like a beacon, symbolising a rare and spectacular wildlife recovery. We may never be able to fully restore the complex forest ecosystem of the past but the return of the Super Stoat shows that given the will, a richer, wilder Scotland is entirely achievable.  

SCOTLAND: The Big Picture