Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 13:11 UK

Baby pine martens return to wild

The four pine martens
The Scottish SPCA hopes to expand the pine marten population

Four orphaned pine martens have been released into the wild in a bid to boost the population of the species in southern Scotland and England.

The two males and two females were rescued by the Scottish SPCA after falling from their nests.

They each spent between eight and 10 weeks at the charity's Wildlife Rescue Centre near Dunfermline.

The mammals - named Rowan, Aspen, Maple and Ash - have now been released into a forest in the south of Scotland.

The Scottish SPCA said they were kept apart on arrival at the centre but were gradually introduced to each other until they could be moved into a large outdoor enclosure as a group.

During their time with the charity they steadily gained weight and grew in confidence, learning to socialise with each other and display normal pine marten behaviour.

'Natural spread'

Throughout their rehabilitation, handling and human contact was kept to an absolute minimum, ensuring the pine martens remained wild.

Centre manager Colin Seddon said: "The four pine martens have now been released in a large expanse of mixed forest in Southern Scotland.

"We are hopeful that this release, especially because they are two pairs, will help with the natural spread of pine martens from their stronghold in the Highlands down to Southern Scotland and then on into England."

Once persecuted for their fur, pine martens are now protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Population figures from 2002 revealed that Scotland had approximately 6,400 adult pine martens, while there were about 1,600 in England and only 760 in Wales.

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