Scotland’s underground power station is used to welcoming thousands of visitors a year, but not normally those of the furry kind.
One of the rarest mammals in Britain, a family of four friendly Pine Martens has made themselves at home at Cruachan, on the banks of Loch Awe near Oban.
Daubed the Cruachan Critters, the group have been delighting tourists this summer and charming the staff of ScottishPower’s visitor centre with their gallus antics.
A Cruachan Pine Marten on the picnic tables at the power station’s visitor centre
Built over 50 years ago, Cruachan’s power station lies a kilometre below the ground with enormous turbines coverting water from the nearby loch into electricity.
But it’s the above-ground ‘Hollow Mountain’ café – and its’ tasty homemade treats – that has instead captured the attention of the cat-sized clan.
With fruit and nuts, and the odd sweet treat, the pine martens enjoy a feast of leftovers – topped up by stolen treats from the outdoor picnic tables.
Cafe assistant Shona Mcleman said: “There have been a few sightings over the years but this family in particular seen well and truly settled in now. The adults had their babies down by the loch and run up daily to collect food for them and take it down to their den, before returning to eat more themselves.
“We do put out leftovers for them on the patio but have had to warn visitors sitting outside to be on their guard, it’s not unheard of for them to sneak up and pinch food from their plates if they’re not keeping a close eye on their lunch.
“It all started because we caught them breaking into the bins to make off with the leftover jam portions, so we started leaving them out food instead. They got so gallus they were pilfering seeds from the bird table and we’ve had to put a sign up warning visitors not to leave their food unattended.
“We make sure there’s fruit and nuts on offer for them but cakes – or anything with jam – is what they come for most. They’re wee gannets.”
It’s believed the well-settled in family have their den on the banks of picturesque Loch Awe, a stunning location which attracts thousands of visitors a year.
In fact, the plucky pine martens have even tried out ScottishPower’s tour bus themselves hopping on board as it got ready to depart for its regular trip inside the ‘Hollow Mountain’ to the surprise of waiting tourists.
Shona added: “They’ve been on the bus a few times now, but we can’t take pine martens inside the mountain! The best way to get them off is with a trail of cake crumbs, that always does the trick. You can’t fault their curiosity but visitors to the power station can definitely get some unexpected photo opportunities!”
Anne Mikula, Cruachan Visitor centre manager, added: “The pine martens are firm favourites with staff and visitors alike. We’re keen to look after our local wildlife and with pine martens protected; we’re want to do our bit to secure their future. Shona is their favourite member of the team though and when she’s out with her tray, they know to come for a treat or two!”
Night vision cameras spot the Pine Martens hunting for midnight snacks at Cruachan
Wildlife organisation Scottish Natural heritage praised cafe staff for looking after their furry neighbours.
Robert Raynor, SNH mammal specialist, said: “It’s great to hear that visitors to Cruachan are getting a chance to enjoy seeing this lively pine marten family. Pine martens have made an amazing recovery in Scotland. They were once found throughout the UK, but suffered one of the most dramatic declines of any UK mammal.
“In the last half of the 20th Century, pine marten populations have recovered in Scotland and are now found in most mainland areas north of the Central Belt and a few parts of southern Scotland. But the species is still rare in the UK and absent from most of England and Wales.”
Mike Russell, MSP for Argyll and Bute, is another to be won over by the ‘Cruachan Critters’.
He said: “Although Pine Martens are not quite as rare now as they were a few years ago, thanks to the effect of their listing as a species in danger, they are still not plentiful and are never easy to see. Consequently the opportunity to do so at Cruachan is a good one, as I can testify myself having had the excitement of spotting one of them when I was last at the power station.
“Their presence also proves that the environment around Cruachan is of the highest standard and indeed the whole place is very beautiful as well as very impressive. Certainly worth the journey as is all of Argyll & Bute!"
A Cruachan Pine Marten
Pine Marten Factfile
- The pine marten (Martes martes) was once found throughout Britain but suffered one of the most dramatic declines of any UK mammal in the 19th and early 20th Century, partly down to fur trapping and persecution to protect shooting interests.
- Thankfully the species survived in North West Scotland, due to its areas of remote forest and rocky moorland. In the 1980s, the species was given full legal protection and numbers have risen significantly since, although they are rarely found still in England and Wales.
- Related to weasels, mink, otters, badgers, wolverines and skunks, pine martens have dark brown fur with a large creamy white throat patch.
- About the same length as a house cat, they are very agile and can climb high up in the tree tops with a bushy tail to help them balance.
- They generally live in woodlands rather than loch-side and make breeding shelters among rocks, in hollow trees or in a bird or squirrels' nest with young born in April.
- They also have a few temporary resting places (dens) within the area in which they live which they use from time to time, although Cruchanan appears to have become a permanent home to the new family.
- Pine martens and their dens are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Contact: Stephanie Todd, ScottishPower UK Media Manager via email@example.com or 0141 614 6583 / 07894 813877