THE planting of more than one million trees has helped the return of the rarest UK carnivores to the central belt.

The exotic Parma violet scent of its droppings has confirmed the presence of the pine marten, a cat sized member of the weasel family, which was once found throughout Britain.

However persecution and deforestation led to its dramatic decline in the 19th century until it was largely reduced to relict populations limited to remote forest and rocky moorland in the north west Highlands.

In 1988, the species was given full legal protection, and since then has made a significant recovery. There are now thought to be around 3,500 mostly across Scotland, from the Highlands to Galloway.

The latest area it has colonised is to be found amidst the one and a half million trees, that planted between 2001 and 2010 by the Woodland Trust Scotland, in the Ochils hill range between Stirling, Alloa, Kinross and Perth.

The new woodland includes oak, birch, juniper stretching over three areas, Geordie’s Wood, Glen Sherup and Glen Quey.

Site Manager Gary Bolton said: “Pine marten scat often has a very distinctive smell similar to Parma violets, and tends to be found in prominent places such as on top of large rocks or logs. Finding likely droppings has become becomes a regular occurrence at Glen Devon recently, and we’ve now had samples tested and confirmed by a specialist.

“The presence of pine martens is further evidence that wildlife is flourishing as a result of the new mosaic of habitats that we’ve created. It’s a satisfying result in a relatively short space of time and as the woodland develops further I'd expect to see even more species.”

A range of species has already benefitted from the increase in the woodland habitat. Black grouse have risen in number and established new lekking sites, and breeding long eared owls have been recorded this summer in Geordie’s Wood, close to Muckhart, he said.

Pine martens are normally over two feet long with dark brown fur with a large creamy white throat patch. They prefer to live in native woodlands but can also live in conifer plantations and on rocky hillsides. But each animal requires up to 400 acres of woodland within its territory.

They have a wide-ranging diet, mostly eating voles and mice, but will also take birds and poultry, eggs, beetles frogs, honey, fungi, carrion and berries in the autumn.

The fox can be both a predator of pine martens, and a competitor for food.