Latest News - Life as a volunteer for Scottish Wildcat Action

Life as a volunteer for Scottish Wildcat Action

Most people I talked to thought it was a crazy decision – leaving a steady job in Bedfordshire with a permanent contract to do a stint of full time volunteering for two to three months in the north of Scotland. However, although it was bit of a gamble on paper, a chance to work with such an iconic species and gain lots of invaluable career experience seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime.

My own passion for Scottish wildcats and their conservation grew from many holidays in the Highlands, reading the books of nature writers such as Mike Tomkies and following their current plight with great interest. I am also lucky to have seen what looked like one in the wild, I photographed this individual in 2007 at a holiday cottage on the west coast; he seemed to have acquired a somewhat bizarre taste for fruitcake left out for the local Pine Martens!

Possible Scottish wildcat spotted on the west coast - Scottish Wildcat Action

So after dropping the bombshell of handing my notice in, I made the arduous drive from Milton Keynes to Huntly in Aberdeenshire over two days for a training week. I knew parts of the Strathbogie wildcat priority area already, but was looking forward to getting reacquainted in more detail. The landscape, whilst tamer than the Cairngorms, offers excellent wildcat habitat with its large areas of forest bordering farmland.

Helping with the big winter survey is the main focus of my role, so my training week was an enjoyable ‘crash course’ in setting up bait stations and cameras over many locations, under the excellent tutelage of Emma, the project officer supervising me, and Dr Roo Campbell, the priority areas manager. I also got lots of background information on the project, it is certainly an impressive undertaking and it feels especially rewarding to help with a survey that is leading to direct conservation action by neutering and vaccinating the more obvious hybrids and, of course, feral cats.

Since I have returned after the New Year, I have worked more independently setting up camera traps to monitor over the survey duration, as well as helping a few local volunteers with their set ups. All has gone smoothly bar a few cold toes and a confusing hour spent searching for a forestry block that had been felled since the aerial photo in my hand had been taken!

With tantalising images already trickling in, the first official deadline to check cameras fast approaches and it is an exciting prospect to see how many cats are tempted to the sites; the recent cold weather should be working in our favour. It makes the cats more hungry and the baited camera traps are more enticing as a result.

I hope to be able to share some more experiences of being an intern later on in the survey; it has certainly been a lot of fun so far!

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.

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Image for James Walker

Since gaining a degree in Wildlife Conservation, James Walker has gained experience with the RSPB, Manx BirdLife and as a countryside ranger in Bedfordshire. He hopes to develop the necessary skills and experience to work on conservation projects in the future by volunteering for Scottish Wildcat Action. Outside of work, he enjoys travel, sports and photography.

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