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Farming with Highland tigers

‘There are only 300 wildcats thought to be left in Scotland’

I can remember reading that and thinking what a lot of rubbish. We have a few here, and I’m pretty sure that no-one has ever counted them!! Quite often we would see what looked like a wildcat on the lower edge of the hill ground and occasionally we would see a wildcat moving her kittens about the farm. They are very similar to most young Mums on the school run. The kittens (usually 3 or 4 in a litter here) are strung out in a line behind Mum, with her trying to hurry them along and keep them out of trouble, while looking slightly harassed.

This is one of the first photos I ever took of a possible wildcat. She passed the other side of the fence from me, trying to hurry everyone up. After I had succeeded in taking this I am hardly without a camera now! It’s not a great photo, but sparked my desire to do better.

Photo: Possible wildcat with kittens

Cat with kittens

After reading there were only 300 left, I started to pay closer attention to when and where I was seeing them.

I became aware of the Scottish Wildcat Action work through meeting Dr Roo Campbell, the Priority Areas Manager for the project, when he called in on the off chance to ask about putting cameras up at our farm to see what he could find. I found the work he was doing quite interesting, but apart from letting him know where we saw the cats, I didn’t get any more involved than that.

However that all changed when a couple of years later I met Emma Rawling my local wildcat project officer. She offered me a loan of a trail camera, and I haven’t looked back! I have learnt lots of do’s and don’ts the hard way. It took months and months of checking the camera before I saw a fleeting glimpse of a blurry tail disappearing into the dark. That glimpse gave me hope. I’d always known there were good-looking cats here on the farm, but getting a decent shot was proving near impossible. I made lots of mistakes before I started to get it right! The morning I checked the camera and had to delete 1422 photos of sheep was particularly disheartening (don’t put your camera on a fence line when you’ve been weaning lambs, lesson learnt!) I’ve also come to realise that the cats are very much creatures of habit. Using a natural post for the camera, such as a tree or fence post always obtains better results than putting in a post especially for the job. They are more settled if the surroundings are as they should be.

Following my newly found rules has led to photos such as these.

We tend to give the cats we see regularly nicknames, this is The Mermaid (she likes to sit on a rock!)

Photo: The Mermaid (scores 15 on pelage and 75% on her DNA)

Mermaid

Just before Christmas, I hit it really lucky with camera positioning. It looks like the resident female was attracting some serious attention from the males in the area. And they very kindly paraded in front of the camera to woo her.

Photo: Unidentified male. 

This is one of my favourite cats we have identified here, and of course he has a name. Big Fluffy. He is a bold cat, not in the least bit shy or retiring. If he spots us working or driving past, he stands his ground and has a good look at us. He never backs down and slinks off, just ignores us and carries on with whatever he was going to do before we disturbed his day. I did see the orphan lambs trying to chase him through their field one day. He wouldn’t hurry, just kept on walking, with them bouncing around him and sniffing his tail. My own personal favourite.

Photo: Big Fluffy, possible wildcat (scores 16 - 18 but not enough images to confirm all his markings)

So, after all that wooing going on I am very much hoping that we will have a litter of kittens to see in the late spring/early summer.  It’s a very exciting thought, and is certainly keeping me motivated to keep going with the camera.

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.

Contact hello@scottishwildcataction.org for more information or visit our website at www.scottishwildcataction.org

National Trust for Scotland

This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at National Trust for Scotland

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The writer of this blog lives and farms in Aberdeenshire, near to Huntly. It’s a mixed farm with cows, sheep and some arable land growing barley and oats too. They have asked for anonymity in an effort to protect the cats location.

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