PLANS to release pine martens back into the wilds of Exmoor later this year are moving ahead, but slowly.

Thirty to 40 animals are scheduled to start being reintroduced in the autumn on Exmoor and Dartmoor after an absence of more than 100 years.

Pine martens, considered a critically endangered species, were last known to have lived on Exmoor in the late 1800s.

Now, the Two Moors Pine Marten Project plans to take animals from Scotland, where they remain, and reintroduce them to Exmoor, replicating the successes of earlier programmes in Wales and the Forest of Dean.

The project is a joint initiative by Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT), Dartmoor and Exmoor National Park Authorities, the National Trust, and Woodland Trust.

DWT spokesperson Steve Hussey said it was a ‘long and convoluted process’ before the pine martens could be released.

Mr Hussey said: “We have to get various permissions to go ahead and that is what we are in the process of doing at the moment.

“We do not have animals ready to go, but we are hoping it can still be done some time this year.”

Mr Hussey said specific locations would remain secret to reduce the risk of people trying to track down the animals, although the broad areas remained the same.

Project staff had been engaging with local residents to win over their support for the work and once the pine martens were released they would continue to be monitored and there would be ongoing dialogue with people.