ONE of Britain's rarest and most elusive creatures is be the focus of a major three-year project that could play a role in its long-term future.

It follows the exciting discovery of a living pine marten on the North York Moors last year when a single male was snapped by a wildlife camera trap at an undisclosed location.

It was the first confirmed record of pine marten in the area for 24 years - and the first living record for at least 35 years.

The Yorkshire Pine Marten Support Programme, supported by £66,000 of lottery cash, aims to find out more about the creature in the area, support any existing populations and develop a conservation strategy for their long-term survival in the region.

The work is being undertaken by non-profit social enterprise NatureSpy in partnership with the Forestry Commission and will focus on Forestry Commission lands on the North York Moors.

It will mean dozens of wildlife camera traps, which monitor an area for months at a time and trigger when an animal passes in front of them, will be deployed across the forests.

And an army of 50 volunteers will be recruited and trained to check the cameras and find evidence of martens, including attempting to gather DNA, which will then be analysed at the University of Hull. Local people will also be encouraged to report any sightings.

The pine marten is Britain's second rarest carnivore after the Scottish wildcat and the project will be the biggest such monitoring effort ever made in the region.

NatureSpy wildlife biologist James McConnell said: “Heritage Lottery Fund support means we can not only develop a strategy for their long-term conservation in the region, but also engage volunteers and stakeholders in their future."

Forestry Commision ecologist Cath Bashforth said: “The project will provide vital information for marten conservation in the nation’s forests on the North York Moors.

"They are such an important native animal missing from most of our forests."

Pine martens are vigilant and arboreal making them near impossible to track and monitor without the aid of remote technology and species-specific baiting to tempt them down to the forest floor.