Latest News - Wildcats Take Another Step Forward

Wildcats Take Another Step Forward

 

Following last month’s announcement that European funding has been granted to deliver the ‘Saving Wildcats' recovery project (#SWAforLife), we thought we’d take a moment to reflect on the journey we’ve taken so far.

The Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) project began in 2015 and will run until March 2020. SWA built upon the work of the Cairngorms Wildcat Project, which was a practical trial of targeted conservation actions around the Cairngorms National Park alongside a publicity campaign under the banner of the Highland Tiger. That work included raising awareness of the wildcat and its conservation among the public and gamekeepers, monitoring wildcats on five estates within the Park and promoting feral cat neutering and responsible cat ownership. One thing we learned from that work was that hybridisation was widespread. That project led to the development of a national action plan in 2013 (The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan) and then a successful bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund (formerly the Heritage Lottery Fund) to deliver many of those actions as Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA).

Since 2015 SWA has been running volunteer-led camera trap surveys and a Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return (TNVR) programme for feral and unambiguously hybrid cats within initially six and latterly five priority areas. We have also been working with landowners to raise awareness of risks to wildcats and in the last couple of years we have been trapping and GPS-collaring wildcats. All the hard work of our volunteers and staff has enabled us to gather extensive data to improve our understanding of the elusive wildcat.

The continuation of promoting responsible cat ownership saw the creation of our #Supercat campaign, which encourages pet and farm cat owners to microchip, neuter and vaccinate to prevent breeding with and the spread of disease to wildcats.

We have been asking the public, outdoor enthusiasts, farmers, land managers and game keepers to help save the Highland tiger by being part of the #GenerationWildcat movement. This includes reporting any sightings of what they believe to be wildcats, encouraging a reduction in the use of pesticides and rodenticides, and employing wildcat-friendly predator control methods.

Over the course of the SWA project we became increasingly concerned about the status of the wildcat in Scotland, prompting us to approach the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Cat Specialist Group (IUCN CSG) to independently review the evidence. In February 2019, the IUCN CSG published a report which highlighted SWA’s findings - that there is no longer a viable wildcat population living in the wild in Scotland. They concluded that the wildcat is on the verge of extinction, but there was a possible solution - the reintroduction or reinforcement of wildcats to suitably prepared release sites. These findings led to a group of SWA partners, headed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), to seek funding for an ambitious conservation breeding, importation and release programme.

Last month, the new partnership announced that they have secured funding for the next project, ‘Saving Wildcats’ (#SWAforLife). Other partners include Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry and Land Scotland and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. Part of this project will include developing the UK’s first wildcat reintroduction centre. The aim of this is to provide facilities for breeding, veterinary care, remote monitoring and training, with the potential to release wildcats into the Cairngorms National Park. The wider partnership established during our current project will still continue, and will work with Saving Wildcats to develop longer-term and wider-scale approaches to wildcat restoration to Scotland.

The first wildcats are due for release in 2022 and we are looking forward to the work continuing with Saving Wildcats.

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Image for Jenny Wemyss

Jenny is involved with the delivery of Scottish Wildcat Action’s Communications plan and the promotion of the project's key messages through our website and social media channels. She is based at Scottish Natural Heritage, in Inverness.

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