Inverewe Estate, owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), is situated in Poolewe in the North West Highlands an hour and a half from Inverness.
The NTS is helping Scottish Wildcat Action across its Highland properties to determine whether or we not have the elusive Highland Tiger in our midst. As Ranger on the Estate I have been co-ordinating this project at Inverewe which has now been up and running for approximately one month.
I became a Ranger almost 2 years ago after a complete career change where I swapped a life behind a desk in a busy Edinburgh HR office for life in the countryside in one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. Every morning I feel privileged to be able to work in such an amazing place doing the job I love and projects like this make my role even more exciting.
The possibility that we may capture a wildcat on camera is thrilling in itself but I have found that one of the real joys of working on this project so far has been the opportunity to create a real community project and to spread that anticipation throughout our local area.
The moment trail cameras landed on my desk from our head office Countryside Team I have focussed on spreading awareness of and getting as many people involved in this project as possible. I did an interview for our local radio station and submitted an article to our local newspaper asking people to let me be aware of any sightings of cats and to get in touch if they wished to “adopt” a camera to look after in the area. I also contacted our local butcher, Kenny Morrison who has agreed to put aside offcuts and offal for us to use to bait camera traps.
I have now recruited 4 volunteers who are checking their cameras weekly and passing me the images. We have 2 cameras at NTS Corrieshalloch Gorge and I am also working in conjunction with our neighbouring Letterewe Estate who have 2 cameras on their grounds. They have had positive sightings of wildcats on their property in the past so we are very hopeful that one of the cameras located here will pick up new sightings. The stalker and volunteer looking after these cameras have seen prints that may be cat prints so there is definitely a mounting excitement each week as we wait to see what has been caught on camera.
At Inverewe we picked up an image last week which was passed to Dr Roo Campbell, the project manager for wildcat priority areas, who thinks it may be a hybrid cat. Unfortunately, the camera has overexposed the image so a lot of the cat appears white and you can just see an outline. The tail is visible though and is clearly thick and banded. Could it be? Roo has given us advice on how to avoid the camera over exposing - placing blue tac or electrical tape over some of the LED diodes on the flash, taking care not to block the light sensor diode, so with this adaption to the camera in place we are waiting to see if this cat will return and if we can get a better image.
Although we haven’t had a confirmed sighting of a cat …yet…I am very optimistic. One of the other advantages of this project is that it allows us to gain footage of other species on the Estate and adds to our image library. I am posting these clips on our social media channels which allows members of the public to follow the project and become engaged in it even if they live in Spain or Germany. So far we have had red deer and a lovely little mouse on camera. A Letterewe camera has signs of badger activity near it so hopefully we will get some nice images of them in the near future.
I’m very excited about the potential of this project and am very hopeful that we will capture a cat on camera. This is our only tantalising image so far of what could be a Scottish wildcat. However, if they were here in the past there is no reason why they shouldn’t be here now. Wouldn’t that be wonderful for one of my volunteers to capture it on their camera?
You can find out how to identify a Scottish wildcat from a domestic or hybrid cat at www.scottishwildcataction.org/about-wildcats
Scottish Wildcat Action is the first national project to save the highly endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction. It is a partnership involving over 20 organisations, including, Scottish Natural Heritage, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, National Museums Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Government, as well as its partners.
See www.scottishwildcataction.org for more information.