Latest News - In search of a stripy needle: renowned wildlife photographer, Peter Cairns, talks about his experience with Scottish wildcats

In search of a stripy needle: renowned wildlife photographer, Peter Cairns, talks about his experience with Scottish wildcats

“In the absence of an organisation willing to champion its cause, the wildcat could well slip off the edge.”

Almost a decade after hearing these words from a senior politician they still scream in my head. I recall my bewilderment at how a country could spends millions on other wildlife celebrities – sea eagles, beavers and even water voles – and yet be prepared to turn its back on such an icon? The Scottish wildcat is certainly not out of the woods yet but thankfully, we’ve at least woken up to its plight.

Catching a Scottish wildcat in camera is the Holy Grail for most wildlife photographers. It’s also a massive challenge. Where do you start? How do you find Britain’s rarest mammal and more significantly for me, how do you go about photographing it? Very small (stripy) needles and very large haystacks spring to mind.

Back in March a friend gave me a tip off – it’s often the way in my business. A wildcat had been seen near an old barn north of Aviemore. “Is that it?” I asked. “Is that all I’ve got to go on?” It wasn’t much but it was a start. Six months on with three very expensive camera traps deployed, I have the total sum of 4 publishable images to show for many miles walked, many batteries expended and recharged and many, many disappointments. True, I’ve got lots of ‘nearly’ images - wildcat backsides, out of focus wildcats and even wildcats scent-marking my camera. Like I said, it’s a challenge.

My goal – and it could take years – is to tell the Scottish wildcat’s story in images and on film; to bring it into the public consciousness; to get it up there with puffins, red squirrels and other celebrities of the wildlife world. Ultimately I, and everyone involved with Scottish Wildcat Action, need to get people to care; to do something positive that will prevent our only remaining native cat slipping off the edge.

I’d love to show you my 4 images, I really would but I can’t. Well, I can but I’m not going to. They’re locked away for now in a digital dungeon. In the meantime...

There are more miles to be walked, more hours to be sat waiting, more disappointments to work through. Thanks to the collaboration of the Scottish Wildcat Action partners however, there is now a greater chance of me photographing the stripy needle but far more importantly, there is now, finally, lots of organisations willing to champion the cause of Scotland’s forgotten cat.

Please note: Scottish Natural Heritage should be contacted for advice on the need for a licence to disturb a protected species for any photography or filming near a suspected wildcat den site.

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Image for Peter Cairns

Based in the Scottish Highlands, Peter Cairns is a freelance photographer with fifteen years professional experience under his belt. Co-founder of Tooth & Claw, Wild Wonders of Europe and 2020VISION, Peter focuses on long-term conservation communication projects. He is a Senior Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers and a Director of The Wild Media Foundation. He is photographing wildcats as part of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

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