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How to find a Scottish wildcat

I have been lucky enough to work with wildlife in Scotland for over 15 years now and consider myself privileged to have seen most local species in their natural habitats with some patience, leg work and luck! However, one of my motivations in taking on my current role as a wildcat project officer for Scottish Wildcat Action was precisely because I had never seen a wildcat in the wild! I was determined to change this (and luckily have since) and to play my part in saving this species.

Can you spot the difference?

Scottish wildcat

Tabby domestic cat

I was certainly not alone - not many people these days can say they have seen a wildcat in the wild and it’s certainly a thrill. I often get asked how to see one, but with only 300 or so wildcats left it’s like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Most sightings reported to us are the result of very lucky fluke encounters, but here is my general advice on how to maximise your chances, responsibly.

My Top Ten Tips for spotting wildcats

  • Get to Scotland. Whilst historically wildcats were found in other parts of the UK, they are now only found in Scotland. Our Wildcat priority areas are good places to start - though not the only places wildcats are found. 

Wildcat priority areas

Scottish Wildcat Action - priority areas

  • Timing: the best time to see wildcats is winter when they work hardest hunting to survive and so are sometimes seen in daylight. The vegetation is lower and snow allows for easier tracking, and also cats are hungriest so are bolder and easier to see.
  • Almost all wildcat sightings records are kept purposefully vague for the wildcats protection (and often at landowner request) so don’t expect exact tip offs for sites. If you do find one, be responsible about who you tell and don’t put the animal at risk. Make sure you report it to u using the Mammal Tracker app or via our website!
  • Aim to spend some quality wildlife watching time in wildcat habitats and enjoy all the wildlife, rather than set out just to see a wildcat so you won’t be disappointed. 
  • Wildcats are crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) so you will need to start early and stay out late! Walks before breakfast and after dinner are ideal.
  • Practice your field craft - know the tracks, scats and other animal signs, and not just of wildcats but other wildlife it shares habitats with. These can be vital clues.
  • Learn to think like a cat - know its habitat preferences, remember they like woodland edges and areas rich in rabbits etc. Always ask landowner permission if you want to put up a camera trap or stake out a wildcat.
  • Be prepared to be super patient if you are staking out an area (bearing in mind wildcats can have territories of several square miles) and make sure you are not affecting the animal’s behaviour adversely by being too long in one place.
  • Remember all wildcat denning and resting sites are legally protected so you will need a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage to photograph or disturb these with a hide. See their website for details.
  • When walking, cycling, skiing or driving in wildcat country keep an eye out for those chance encounters crossing tracks and roads - you never know when they might happen. Have your camera handy and make notes/sketches of the details as soon as possible so you can report the details. 

A recent chance roadside encounter with a possible wildcat by Alex Gillard. Strathbogie

Scottish Wildcat Action

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 for more information or visit our website at

Heritage Lottery Fund

This content was made possible by our Partners & Funders at Heritage Lottery Fund


Image for Emma Rawling

Emma is responsible for the Strathbogie area and coordinating Scottish Wildcat Action's volunteers. She has previously worked as a wildlife ranger and warden, with species like red squirrels, ospreys and beavers, as well as being a vet nurse and working in animal welfare. She is based at the FES office near Elgin.


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