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Walking in a wildcat wonderland

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A trail camera shot of one of Strathbogie's beautiful resident Scottish wildcats

I’ve been working with Scottish Wildcat Action’s dedicated team for around six months now and one of the first things I felt I needed to do to get my teeth into the project was to go into the field with one of our Project Officers.

So not long after I started I went out with Strathbogie's Project Officer Emma Rawling to see for myself what life was like on the front line in the battle to protect Britain's most endangered carnivore.

I travelled from Inverness to Elgin to meet up with Emma for the first time at her Forestry Commission based office in Elgin. From there we headed across to Aberdeenshire and into the heart of her Strathbogie wildcat priority area.

I'm not sure I was fully prepared for how busy the day ahead would be, but I soon found out that this was fairly typical for our hardy team of Project Officers, whose work is not only varied, but can be very extremely challenging and physically demanding.

Our first stop of the day was a visit to the vet in Huntly to meet the team who are responsible for neutering all the stray, farm or feral cats Emma traps during her Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return (TNVR) work. This work is crucial to the survival of the Scottish wildcat and helps protect them from disease and prevent hybridisation with domestic or feral cats.

Pictured above: Huntly vet's ragdoll, Louie

We got to meet the vet’s resident Ragdoll cat Louie, which greets everyone at reception with a nonchalant flick of its bushy tail and if he likes you then the next stop is your lap should you take a moment to sit down.

After meeting the friendly staff at the vet practice it was back in Emma’s SWA mobile and off to meet a farmer who had contacted Emma about a large number of non-neutered and non-vaccinated cats living on his farm (around 50!), slap bang in the middle of Scottish wildcat country.

There are many farms like this, where farm cats simply exist to breed and kill vermin. However, the risks to the Scottish wildcat are all too apparent. In this case many of the cats had disease, were highly inbred and posed a real hybridisation risk to wildcats had they not been neutered.

This particular farm had been visited by Emma a few times before, and I was going along with her to trap the final four or five cats before taking them back to Huntly for neutering and vaccination.

Pictured above: Just one of the five farm cats we caught that day and took to the vet in Huntly for neutering

But trapping the right cats is never easy and it took a couple of failed attempts to get the right ones. Once we captured our targets for the day we took them back to the vet for their procedures.

Another important part of Emma’s work is community engagement and our final stop of the morning was to the town square in Rhynie to put new posters up in the local shop and community notice board. Emma carries out a lot of talks to groups and young people about the important work she is doing in Strathbogie.

After stopping for a quick spot of lunch we headed to an area in the Clashindarroch forest where Emma had already detected wildcats, but it was never likely we would catch a glimpse of this elusive creature during our visit that day.

And so it proved. No wildcats, but plenty of evidence they had been there recently, with a number of tell-tale signs apparent in the places we visited. Even to walk in the same surroundings that these amazing creatures roam was very exciting and it felt a little like an Attenborough adventure.

We looked inside the ruins of a house, where camera traps had only recently picked up images of Scottish wildcats. Inside there was evidence of a cat-made bed in the straw. It is actually an offence to disturb the rest site of a wildcat.

Pictured above: Evidence that a cat had recently been in the abandoned house, probably a Scottish wildcat

This territory is not easy to navigate or indeed make your way through with high grass, nettles and small sink holes everywhere. Hats off to Emma for negotiating this terrain on a regular basis and in some pretty extreme weather!

It was a busy day, an informative and exciting day, but a day which also highlighted just how demanding this work is and how much commitment is shown by all three of our Project Officers and our squad of volunteers all to help protect the critically endangered Scottish wildcat.

No doubt I will get the opportunity in the next few weeks and months to visit another one of our five Wildcat Priority Areas (Strathpeffer, Morvern, Angus Glens and Northern Strathspey).

If you would like to find out more about our work visit , Follow us on Twitter or on Facebook – we are also on YouTube and LinkedIn if you prefer or you can sign up to our regular newsletter via our website.

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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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