Even a dead pine marten leaves its mark. I won't forget that first sighting.
In front of me lay a beautiful cocoa-coloured animal brought into the public bar of my parent’s hotel in Kilchoan, on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. It had been caught in a snare and then squeezed into a bloodied game bag. Now it lay on the table revealing an exquisitely furred body so soft to the touch. Its tail was full and bushy, the ochre-coloured patch at its throat dappled with dark brown blotchy markings. As it lay motionless, I saw its little foxy face revealing sharp teeth set firm in a macabre death grimace. I was eight years old, and I had never seen anything quite so lovely. I had been close to other dead animals but this one I recall had no odour. It is the reason that the pine marten bears the nickname sweet mart, while its relative the polecat is fou' mart – or foul mart, because of its pungent aroma.
At the end of the 1960s, even the lush Atlantic oakwoods of the Western seaboard were devoid of pine martens. We stood looking at this astonishing creature amid conjecture – was it a ferret, a polecat, a mink? No one seemed to be sure. Someone suggested a marten cat. Looking back now, this lack of knowledge proves how desperate things had become for the pine marten. The relentless persecution had rendered it so rare, it was almost lost to our memory.