Page last updated at 00:27 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 01:27 UK

Elusive predator a city slicker

Pine marten
Pine marten were persecuted in the past and hunted for their pelt

An animal more commonly found in rural areas of Scotland appears to have found suitable habitat close to a city centre, according to a wildlife ranger.

The discovery of a pine marten killed on the A96 close to Inverness Retail Park could be an indicator of a healthy population in the area.

Highland Council countryside ranger John Orr said he had heard reports of the mammals in local gardens.

But it could be bad news for rare red squirrels - a key prey for martens.

Mr Orr told the BBC Scotland News website that pine martens were among wild creatures now being seen in Inverness.

We are seeing things like fewer hedgehog dead on roads which suggests their numbers are way down
John Orr
Highland Council countryside ranger

Red kites, a bird of prey, have been spotted on several occasions flying above city roads.

Mr Orr said: "It sounds weird, but road kills are quite good indications of how species are doing.

"We are seeing things like fewer hedgehogs dead on roads which suggests their numbers are way down."

The planting of more native trees and an end to the persecution of pine martens could be behind their spread into an urban area.

Mr Orr said: "They were persecuted because they take the eggs of ground nesting birds, such as grouse, but were also killed for their pelt."

He added: "Pine martens are hard to see in the wild because they are pretty much nocturnal."

However, the pine martens' presence could pose a new threat to Inverness's red squirrels which is already in danger from another recent new arrival.

Confirmed sightings of the first grey squirrel to be seen in the Highlands were reported in April.

Greys carry a disease fatal to reds and also compete with the smaller mammal for food.

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