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Plans to reintroduce pine martens in the region

Pine Marten Photo: ITV News

Environment officials are planning to reintroduce pine martens into a part of England where they were once driven to the brink of extinction.

The mammals were virtually killed off in England by Victorian gamekeepers and could only be found in the Scottish Highlands for most of the 20th Century.

However, after a successful project to bring them to Wales, they could soon be making a return to the south west of England.

Pine Marten Credit: ITV News

Plans are afoot for the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire to become a wildlife safari park in a bid to draw tourists to the area, where the animals once flourished.

Environmental group the Forestry Commission touted the re-introduction plans and will hold a consultation, following in the footsteps of a similar project which brought back beavers after a 400-year absence.

Boss of the project, Andrew Stringer said: "I am absolutely passionate about reintroductions as a conservation tool."

''However, I am also passionate about ensuring they are used in the right situations."

"They are not always the right tool, and that's why feasibility studies are so important."

"We will be releasing the results of the study towards the end of 2017, with a decision in early 2018 as to whether a reintroduction will take place."

Describing the animals as "enchanting and elusive," Mr Stringer said one of the main concerns was whether the pine martens would survive in an area with so many roads."

Pine Marten Credit: ITV News

Tourists are expected to flock to the forest, with the possibility of nocturnal safaris being offered.

Ecologist Rebecca Wilson was involved in bringing beavers back into the wild, and said: "The feasibility study will have a large focus on the potential impact on people living in and around the Forest of Dean."

"There may be opportunities for increasing ecotourism, but also potential costs."

"For instance, the study will investigate whether chickens that are already protected against foxes need any further protection against pine martens."

So far some 40 pine martens have been released from Scotland into Wales, which were being monitored with tracking devises.