Ruth has been volunteering for Scottish Wildcat Action since 2015 but her day job is at the National Trust for Scotland. NTS are also one of the partners involved in the wildcat project. Ruth's love of wildlife and passion for cats has made her a great asset to the wildcat conservation work we are doing in Strathpeffer.
Latest News - My back garden is a hybrid haven
Hello fellow cat lovers, let me tell you a bit about myself and then all about my amazing year with the Strathpeffer cats. I was raised in the west highland village of Plockton, where my Dad was the primary school headmaster. He massively influenced my enthusiasm and love for nature, the environment and conservation. In and out of school he taught me to love and care for the natural world. I left school as soon as I possibly could, to begin my career in the conservation sector, with the National Trust for Scotland. I've now worked for them for 20 years.
I am also a great lover of animals and have always had pets. Among the pets I have had, there has always been a cat in my life. Our current treasured cat is Magnus, our 16 year old black beauty. Magnus does not seem to share my love of wildcats!
When I heard about Scottish Wildcat Action I immediately signed up to help and in November 2015 Keri, the local wildcat officer, got in touch to ask me to 'man' a camera. Conservation and animals all rolled into one, I was so excited!
A few weeks later I was signed up, trained, had my camera, my allotted location and off I went. I enlisted the help of my husband with monitoring the camera. On our first check of the camera no cats. Instead, there was a rather cheeky pine marten and an amazing roe deer selfie. Second check, the pine marten had stolen the bait within hours and no cats. Third check, the same again. And so it went on. Unfortunately by the end of our 12 weeks we hadn't seen any cats.
One day, not long after finishing the official survey for early 2016, I was pottering in the garden when a cat walked straight past me. It was beautiful and what I noticed most clearly were the rings on his/her tail. No...it can't be...can it? I dismissed it; it couldn’t possibly be a wildcat or even a hybrid. That would be too good to be true.
The following week my husband was working from home when a cat with lovely markings walked right past the window. He dashed outside and got great pictures! With huge excitement I sent them straight to Keri. My husband and I were thrilled; it looked like we had a visiting hybrid. The next week, again this cat reappeared. Keri suggested we put the camera up and just see if we could get some pictures.
Photo: Lady, probable hybrid number 1
All the way through April and May we saw our cat on an almost daily basis. It was incredible to think we must have had this cat visiting all winter and not noticed. On chatting with neighbours about our visitors we have come to realise there are common sightings of these particular cats in Strathpeffer. Keri and I have looked at our pictures time and time again. Initially we thought we had one cat but if you look closely you can see very subtle differences between the cats in our first two pictures. The first is known locally as Lady, the second I have named Keri Cat, after my favourite wildcat officer!
Photo - Keri cat, probable hybrid number 2
One of our greatest experiences was one Friday evening. I was standing at our kitchen window when a flash of cat screeched through the garden and caught a rabbit, and this was not the same cat, it had much darker colourings. I sat in the garden watching this cat for at least quarter of an hour, it was incredible! We have named this cat Red.
Photo - Red, probable hybrid number 3
Summer arrived and as quickly as they had arrived, our cats were gone. However the work doesn’t stop there. Over the summer Keri and I have been working to try to identify these cats. The people of Strathpeffer look after a lot of them and so we need to be absolutely sure they are correctly identified before being trapped, neutered, vaccinated and released. My husband and I have missed seeing the cat themselves over the summer but both feel hugely privileged to have had such close contact with these beautiful creatures.
Our story doesn’t end here. I will continue to volunteer for Scottish Wildcat Action as long as I am needed. We still have our potential 4th cat to find out more about and fingers crossed we’ll see him / her this winter.
Photo - mystery cat (could this be number 4?)
This has been the most exciting conservation experience of my life. As well as the fabulous cats, it has been a true joy to learn more about the wildcat population of Scotland. Thinking of helping Scottish Wildcat Action? Go for it…..it is fantastic!
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.
This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at National Trust for Scotland