Latest News - Crisis Communications – My move from emergency services to a wildlife emergency

Crisis Communications – My move from emergency services to a wildlife emergency

The vast majority of my career to date has been with the emergency services (police and then the fire service) and a sizeable chunk of the work I did in both those roles involved crisis communications.

It was my responsibility to ensure the public were kept fully up to speed with events or incidents which had a direct or indirect impact on their everyday lives or safety.

My role now with Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) still involves dealing with a crisis, but it’s a crisis of a very different beast, quite literally!

My emergency service roles had a strong focus on warning and informing and never is that more important than in my new role, because the warning about the fragile future of the Scottish wildcat couldn’t be more serious. 

The situation on the ground is perilous and complicated and so too are the communications challenges surrounding it.

The SWA project focuses on five Wildcat Priority Areas – Strathpeffer, Northern Strathspey, Strathbogie, Angus Glens and Morvern and we have three Project Officers (Nicola Tallach, Emma Rawling and Dr Keri Langridge) and a battalion of dedicated volunteers all working incredibly hard to help save this iconic species.

One of the key communications challenges is ensuring our key messages reach all our audiences. Our audience ranges from the general public, domestic cat owners, members of the farming community, outdoor enthusiasts, land managers, the gamekeeping community, sporting estates and their customers.

We do utilise a number of social networking channels and have a sizeable following on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram and YouTube. And we have over 1,500 Supercat ‘Pledgers’ who subscribe to our SWA newsletter. Our website too is a resource rich home for all the work we are doing and how everyone can help. We are constantly reviewing the website and looking for new ways to improve the user experience.

However, I am acutely aware that not everyone has access to broadband or fibre optic internet services and some may not even choose to use a computer or the plethora of social media channels now available. That’s where traditional communication, such as through posters, events, community councils, local newsletters, radio, newspapers, magazines and word of mouth are still king, particularly in some of our priority areas which are fairly remote.

My job is about striking a balance between traditional and digital media/marketing to make sure as many people as possible are aware of what they can do to help protect the endangered Scottish wildcat.

But it’s not just about the vehicles for communication, it’s about the subject itself. I have found in the short space of time I have been part of the Scottish Wildcat Action team that this subject is an extremely complex one.

The list of facets within the subject of wildcats is surprisingly extensive, ranging from habitat change, hybridisation with domestic house and feral cats, persecution, ‘Feline HIV’ (FIV), ‘Feline Leukaemia’(FeLV)  and other diseases, accidental killing, genetics, conservation breeding to translocation protocols, pelage scoring, hybrid cats,  priority areas, trapping, neutering, trail cameras, education, vaccination and DNA sampling.

I have also discovered that conservation communications can be a veritable minefield when it comes to handling inquiries from both the public and media. There are always going to be differing views on the best way to protect the species, and ‘conversations’ can often get heated! But we here at Scottish Wildcat Action always try to be as open and transparent about our work as possible and for the most part steer clear of the temptation to get into public disagreements with other organisations because the loser in those situations will always be the wildcat.

The results of the work we do are publicly available and we do, where possible, respond to all questions on our social media channels in addition to the email inquiries we get.

The facts are simple. The Scottish wildcat is critically endangered and the numbers left in the wild are worryingly low. SWA not only wants to protect those remaining cats within their own habitats, but as a safety net SWA works with its partners at RZSS, who run the conservation breeding programme, something which may prove crucial to the future of the species - if the populations left in the wild cannot sustain themselves. Quite often one of the major communications challenges we face is trying to help people understand that some of the more difficult decisions we have to make, are being taken with the wildcat’s welfare and continued survival at heart. These decisions are not negative, as might be perceived, but are in fact examples of positive action.

Another element of my work involves looking at new ways to engage with our audience and for the past couple of months I have been working on an exciting new campaign, which we hope to share with you all very soon indeed.

Anyway that’s more than enough from me. Thank you everyone for your continued support and remember if you have a domestic cat please ensured it’s a Supercat by having your precious pet micro-chipped, neutered and vaccinated. And if you live on a farm in one of our priority areas and feral cats are roaming around in great numbers, get in touch and we may be able to help through our TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return) programme.

Join our ‘Wildcat Army’ and together we can help protect the Scottish wildcat from hybridisation, disease and extinction.

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Image for Duncan McKenzie

I'm responsible for the delivery of Scottish Wildcat Action’s Communications plan, PR, marketing and promotion of the project's key messages through our website and social media channels. My role also involves working with the media.


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