Action plan to save the Scottish wildcat

Scottish Wildcat

A new government-backed action plan to save the endangered Scottish wildcat has been set in motion.

Photograph: A Scottish wildcat at the Highland Wildlife Park – SNH/Lorne Gill

A neat pile of Scottish wildcat Christmas cards is stacked on my desk as I write. I have a proliferation of these charity cards after accidentally ordering five times as many as I needed. I don’t mind that much, though, because the money for these cards goes to what I consider to be a good cause, the Scottish Wildcat Association.

I am fond of cats of all kinds and, in particular, the Scottish wildcat enthralls me. While our domestic feline pets have come to feel comfortable in our homes, the “Highland Tigers” still roam our country wild, free and untamed. They are territorial, strikingly good looking and demand our respect.

In my mind it is fitting that Scotland, containing some of the UK’s last true wilderness areas, is also a haven for some of the wildest creatures. The Scottish wildcat is perhaps the most emblematic of our wild places.

So it’s incredibly sad that these amazing creatures are threatened almost to the point of extinction – despite the determined work of charities such as the Scottish Wildcat Association to try to save the endangered cats

New action plan for Scottish wildcats

Now there is a new campaign that hopes to reverse the decline of the Scottish wildcat “within six years”. The Scottish Wildcat Action Plan was announced by Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse this week and sets out for the first time a package of measures that land managers, conservationists and researchers agree has the best prospect for saving the wildcats.

He said: “As a society we have a legal and moral obligation to try to conserve the species, so that it continues to be part of our natural heritage for generations to come.”

The aim of the Scottish Wildcat Action Plan is to conserve Scottish wildcats by reducing the chances of cross breeding with domestic and feral cats and by lowering the risk to wildcats from feline diseases.

Efforts will be targeted in areas that support the most viable wildcat populations, while a conservation breeding programme will be set up to reinforce wild populations in the future. There will also be further scientific studies to improve understanding of wildcat ecology and genetics.

The campaign has been estimated at a cost of more than £2 million and various funding avenues are being investigated to ensure there is sufficient backing throughout the lifetime of the long-term plan.

Save the wildcat by 2019

The project has been developed by a lengthy list of organisations, experts and partner organisations. Its aims include:

  • Identifying and securing at least five stable populations of Scottish wildcats in the wild
  • Promoting greater awareness of the threats to wildcats from feral cats, domestic cats and hybrids
  • Ensuring that householders and others in wildcat hotspots recognise the importance of having their cats neutered and vaccinated

The Scottish Wildcat Action Plan builds on the good work already undertaken and existing expertise and understanding of the Scottish wildcat.  The success of the plan will depend not just on the project partners but on the uptake by individuals, such as gamekeepers, farmers, and, crucially, Scotland’s cat owners who will hopefully be persuaded to help combat the hybridisation of the species.

At Scottish Natural Heritage, Ron Macdonald, the head of policy and advice, welcomed the new plan. He said: “We at Scottish Natural Heritage have coordinated this plan and we will work closely with the Scottish Government and our partners to monitor its effectiveness. This is an effective partnership of many quite separate organisations who represent a range of interests.

“We are all committed to conserving this rare and elusive species.  And though we do not currently have reliable estimates for the number of wildcats remaining in the wild, everyone agrees there is now some urgency to address the threats they face.”

Leading wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, who captured remote camera images of tigers living in the Himalayas for the BBC series Lost Land of the Tiger, has yet to film Scottish wildcats in the wild. Backing the scheme, he said: “I have spent time in the Scottish Highlands trying to catch a glimpse of this elusive and fascinating predator, and I would like to add my voice to the chorus saying that we need to do all we can to preserve our native wildcats.

“It is heartening to see the new efforts to save this creature which deserves its place in the pantheon of Scottish species.”

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