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Watch Out for Wildcats!

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is calling on visitors and workers in the outdoors to be alert for any sightings of our most elusive predator, the Scottish wildcat (Felis sylvestris). The organisation believes people using the countryside for work or leisure in 2008 can play a key role in helping the plight of one of Scotland’s rarest and most secretive mammals.

The importance of public participation was stressed today (Tuesday 19th February) by Scottish Environment Minister Michael Russell who officially launched the 2008-2009 Scottish Wildcat Survey – the first national survey of wildcats for twenty years – to chart the health and number of the native population across the country. Throughout 2008 SNH will be working to build up a picture of the wildcat population distribution to assess its current survival prospects as a distinct Scottish species.

Launching the survey at the Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig, Michael Russell said: “The elusive wildcat is one of our most exciting and charismatic species, but also one of our most threatened. The last survey, conducted in the Eighties, suggested very low population densities in parts of the country where you could expect to find the animals. In order to ensure that future generations can enjoy this wonderful native animal we need an up-to-date and comprehensive picture of its distribution, trends and threats.”

“People in the countryside, whether working there or simply out for a walk, now have a chance to participate in important conservation work. I would encourage anyone who comes into contact with a wildcat or suspected wildcat in the countryside to record the details and report the encounter to the Scottish Wildcat Survey.”

SNH Director, Professor Colin Galbraith said “The Scottish Wildcat has been identified in Scotland’s Species Action Framework (SAF) as one of our most important species currently threatened by man made and natural environmental pressures.  Under the SAF conservation action is required to improve prospects for its future survival as a distinct native species. The survey launched today by the Minister will play an important role in gathering the information we need to understand those pressures and will also help define the nature of the action we need to take.”

In the last survey between 1983-87 the distribution of the wildcat appeared to be focused on an area north of the central belt from the North East across to Lochaber. Field research suggests there are approximately 3,500 independent animals aged over five months across Scotland. Studies of the animal’s density suggested that Glen Tanar on Deeside had up to 30 wildcats per 100 square kilometres whilst Ardnamurchan had just 8 wildcats per 100 square kilometres.

The 2008-2009 Scottish Wildcat Survey will be coordinated on behalf of SNH by Adrian Davis of Naiad Consultancy who is also a Wild Scotland director. He said “I would encourage everyone who spends time in the countryside to make a special effort this year to look and listen for signs of wildcats. The last survey to give us an idea of how the species was doing across Scotland was over twenty years ago and such is the elusive character of the animal that we have no sure understanding of how the population has fared since then.”

“People can support the 2008-2009 Scottish Wildcat Survey by sending in records of when and where they see wild-living cats. Institutional and individual land owners and managers have already been targeted with a mailed questionnaire. Participants fill in a form on paper or online noting certain features observed on the cat which are key to determining the likelihood of it being a wildcat.”

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