Latest News - BBC Countryfile presenter, Joe Crowley, talks about his day with Scottish Wildcat Action

BBC Countryfile presenter, Joe Crowley, talks about his day with Scottish Wildcat Action

Quiet, stealthy and powerless: the decline of one of Britain’s most endangered mammals has persevered over generations, leaving the wildcat on the brink of extinction. For most people outside of its last remaining Scottish territories it has evaded headlines and slinked under the radar.

And isn’t that just what a cat would do? The sods. Too proud and too independent to ask for help. It’s years since I’ve had a domestic pet cat – and now they make me sneeze – but as I remember it every interaction was on my cat’s terms, not mine. They’re the boss thank you very much, happy out of the limelight.

But of course the wildcat’s predicament is ultimately of human making and presumably, somewhere out in the Scottish wilderness, a wildcat is dreaming up a blog about how fickle we can be. For humans out of sight is often out of mind and the wildcat certainly isn’t a predator that soars majestically through the sky for enthusiasts to admire.

So the ‘Highland Tiger’ finds itself in a dire situation. Fortunate then that a group of plucky, brilliant and selfless people have taken control. I was lucky enough to spend the day with some of them for Countryfile and let me tell you they’re not just determined to resuscitate the wildcat’s ailing PR! Oh no, they’re intent on deciphering the wildcat’s many mysteries and securing the future of this elusive feline.

Photo: Joe and Emma holding a carry cage used to transport feral cats to the vet.

A Scottish Wildcat Action volunteer for the day

I spent much of our filming day learning about the trap, neuter, vaccinate, release programme with Project Officer Emma Rawling. And what a wonderful bundle of energy she is, even at first light! It made me smile when she told me she’s homing in on a couple of particular feral cats she’s trying to catch and neuter to stop them mating with nearby wildcats. And for anyone who hasn’t met Emma and witnessed her passion for the project, let’s just say that I don’t think those cats and their reproductive organs will be together for too much longer!

I also interviewed Dr Roo Campbell, heard from Philippa Murphy from the Forestry Commission and meet some of the many volunteers involved. Throughout the day it became clear there is much cause for optimism but two elements stand out for me.

Firstly, (and this is slightly geeky) it occurred to me the technology that’s now available – and, crucially, affordable – for relatively modest projects like this is game-changing. Small, portable, infrared and remotely owned operated wildlife cameras are no longer just the preserve of high-end nature documentaries. If you want to track down the most obscure or endangered wildlife scattered over a wide area this is time to be doing it. And I’m told GPS tracking has helped build much more detailed knowledge of how wildcats use the landscape.

But all the gear and no idea won’t get you far! The real crux of this project is people. And specifically the wide variety of groups and individuals – volunteers, residents, academics and partner organisations like the Forestry Commission – who have united to invest their time and belief in this cause. I love the idea that local people have a way of helping safeguard the wildlife around them. To witness the giddy excitement of volunteers, eager to view the latest footage from camera traps in the hope of a new wildcat sighting was just lovely. And if you were to judge the success of the project simply on the energy and enthusiasm of those involved you’d have to conclude that failure is not an option!

So on that note a word of thanks. As you’ll see from the film, it was a bitterly cold day and I’m very grateful to everyone who patiently persevered with us, waiting around in sub-zero temperatures. They can now testify that there is one thing rarer and more elusive than the precious wildcat: a film crew that can stay on schedule!

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Image for Joe Crowley

Joe is a British television presenter best known for presenting and reporting on the BBC's The One Show and Countryfile.

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