Determining the population size and conservation status of Irelands rarest mammal – the pine marten

Within the EU Habitats Directive, the pine martin is a protected species and it’s population size must be monitored and reported on by member states. 

A recently completed project, led by Dr Declan O’Mahony from AFBI, and in collaboration with scientists from Waterford Institute of Technology and assistance from the Vincent Wildlife Trust, has conducted the largest-scale population density and abundance scientific study of pine marten anywhere in Europe.

With funding from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland, the research team were tasked with determining variation in the population density of the species throughout Ireland, establishing the current estimated national population abundance of pine marten and also assessing the current conservation status of pine marten in Ireland, to inform Article 17 requirements for this protected species under the EU Habitats Directive.


The project combined cutting edge non-invasive scientific research in the field with molecular analyses using real-time PCR and microsatellite analysis to identify individuals, and advanced spatially explicit capture recapture statistics to determine variation in pine marten across a range of forested sites, including commercially managed forests, national parks and some of the last remnants of semi-natural woodland left in Ireland. 

In total 134 individual pine marten were identified from 339 hair samples collected from tens of thousands of hectares of surveyed forest habitat. Estimated pine marten density varied from 0 to 4.29 individuals per km2 of forest habitat in the 19 study sites, with 80% of sites having an estimated low density of ≤ 1 pine marten per km2 of forest. Combining this density data with the current distribution and area of forest habitat occupied by the species in Ireland, the total population abundance of pine marten in Ireland was estimated at 3,043 (95% CI 2,330 – 3,852) individuals.

The study has confirmed that although widespread, pine marten have a generally low population size and density in Ireland and are amongst the rarest of all mammalian species. The species requires careful conservation management to sustain the population, meet international obligations for protection and address key pressures and threats that face pine marten into the future. The study formed the basis for future monitoring of the status of pine marten in Ireland, a key requirement under the EU Habitats Directive.  

The report was published as an Irish Wildlife Manual and a peer reviewed scientific paper of the study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research is available at