Pine marten, a species previously believed to have survived only in the north, has established a population in the New Forest, Hampshire.
The animals, which are cat-sized members of the weasel family, have been captured with hidden cameras set up to monitor other species.
Habitat loss and human activity drastically reduced their numbers, leaving only a small and fragmented population, mainly in northern England, Scotland and parts of Wales.
They prefer wooded areas with a lot of cover and feed mainly on small rodents, birds, insects and fruits.
Observe: Pine marten captured with a hidden camera in the New Forest
Leanne Sargeant, Senior Ecologist at Forestry England, said: “It is not often that we talk about the return of wildlife to landscapes and the restoration of their populations, so this is a really fascinating development to study.
“The New Forest is a unique landscape and a haven for wildlife, and we hope through this work to learn what makes it such a good habitat for returning pine martens.”
A team from Forestry England, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, and Wild New Forest will be studying them over the next year to find out more about how these rare creatures live in the forest.
Marcus Ward from the specialist conservation consultancy Wild New Forest said: “Since we recorded the first video evidence of pine martens in the New Forest in 2016, we have been following their progress with great interest.
“This new project is a wonderful opportunity to assess the current status of the New Forest population and will help inform their future conservation.”
The team will assess the population size and breeding success. Each pine marten is a maroon color, but each has a uniquely shaped bib – a pale yellow section of fur on the chin and throat.
This makes it possible to identify and record each individual, and by observing their interactions, the team can also identify family groups.