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blog > Pine martens and protocols — working with Martens on the Move volunteers to monitor pine marten den boxes

7th June 2024

A main aim of the Martens on the Move project is to establish a National Pine Marten Monitoring Programme for Britain, which includes volunteers monitoring pine marten den boxes to establish the presence and status of pine martens in a woodland. The Martens on the Move Team, led by Dr Stephanie Johnstone (Project Manager), has been busy building connections, training, meeting existing volunteers and planning opportunities for more volunteering across the project.

During the Development Phase in 2022, Stephanie worked with the local community in the Tweed Valley to install ten den boxes, built by the local Peebles and District Men’s Shed., Now that the Delivery Phase is underway, thanks to funding by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Victoria Chanin (Martens on the Move Project Officer for the Scottish/English Borders) is in the Tweed Valley getting to know the local woodlands, communities and volunteers.

Find out more as Victoria describes her recent work visiting the ten den boxes withvolunteers in the Tweed Valley and why it is important to follow set protocols on monitoring den boxes. We also hear from Volunteer Pine Marten Den Box Monitor, Lisa McLeish, on how her interest in pine martens grew and how it has led her to get involved in this project and co-establish the new Scottish Borders Pine Marten Group.

Victoria Chanin, Martens on the Move Project officer writes…

One of the great things about working with Martens on the Move is spending time out in the woods with our amazing volunteers. In south Scotland I have been putting trail cameras up near den boxes with our Tweed Valley volunteers to see if they are being used by breeding females. It’s wonderful to be in the woods at this time of the year as they are full of bird song, and plants, such as bluebells, wood anemone and lesser celandine, are beginning to transform the forest floor.

It is an offence to disturb any pine marten – and females with kits are particularly vulnerable, as any sense of danger or threat can cause them to move their kits to a safer location, which can be a risky journey for both mother and young. Therefore, we always approach the den boxes quietly and cautiously.

Setting up a trail camera five metres away from the den box (visible in line with the trail camera tree).

The volunteer and I must keep at least five metres away from the den box and work quietly to find a suitable tree (also at least five metres away) where we can set up the trail camera to capture video footage of any residents coming and going. It is an offence to be closer than five metres to an occupied den box unless you hold a pine marten disturbance licence from your Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation (NatureScot in this case) and the only way to see if it is occupied from a distance is to use a thermal imager.

When we don’t have a thermal imager our volunteers always work on the assumption that the den box could be occupied, and even if we know that the den box is empty at that time, the camera will still be set up five metres away to be sure not to disturb any late arrivals when the SD card is collected for checking. Even when you do get a heat source you still won’t know for sure if it is a marten – it could be another warm-blooded species.  Only the trail camera footage can reveal all!

The volunteers will spend the next six weeks waiting impatiently until they can check the footage and see whether they have videos of mother marten and her kits tumbling about the branches as they learn to climb. I too am very excited to discover whether any of the Tweed Valley den boxes have been taken up as breeding sites and can’t wait to see the images.

Lisa McLeish (Volunteer), Pine Marten Den Box Monitor writes…

I’ve always had an interest in wildlife, particularly in mustelids such as badgers, otters, stoats and weasels. Pine martens had never really been on my radar though, mainly since we didn’t really have them in the Scottish Borders – or so I thought. Four years ago, I captured a fleeting glimpse of an animal on a trail camera, just outside Melrose. At that time my cameras weren’t the best and so the footage was grainy and not all that great – yet it was enough to make me think that I’d captured a pine marten on camera. I never saw it again and soon forgot about it until later when I started to hear about pine martens appearing in other parts of the region.

A pine marten captured on Lisa’s trail camera.


Through work involving monitoring other animals such as red squirrels and badgers, it soon became obvious that pine martens were around more than I had realised. I started working in a community woodland in Selkirk and that was where I became involved with the Martens on the Move project. I volunteered to monitor three den boxes, one in Selkirk and the other two on a private estate just outside Melrose. It’s been a fantastic way to learn more about pine martens and their distribution in the region. While no martens have been filmed using the den boxes as yet, they have been spotted in the area. Great news for this native animal that used to be widespread in the region.

Fast forward a few months and a small group of people, all with an interest in pine martens, decided to form the Scottish Borders Pine Marten Group. We are still very new but have so far managed to identify several sites with stable populations of pine martens and are now working to monitor them. We’ve also carried out our first transect and plan to make these a regular part of our work. We will of course be working to support Vincent Wildlife Trust with their work on the Martens on the Move project and look forward to seeing pine martens once again become established in the Scottish Borders.

If you live in the Scottish Borders and would like to find out more, you can contact us at or follow us on Facebook at

Laura Lawrance-Owen

VWT’s Volunteering and Community Engagement Officer

3-4 Bronsil Courtyard, Eastnor, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1EP
01531 636441 |