Final results of Scottish Wildcat project published
A diverse group of land management, research and conservation organisations expects to agree a range of national actions to save the Scottish wildcat over the next six months. The move follows the first-ever meeting of The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Group at Scottish Natural Heritage's (SNH) Battleby conference centre, near Perth, on Friday 14th September. The Group includes representatives from SNH (chair), Forestry Commission Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, the Scottish Wildcat Association, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the National Museum of Scotland, the University of Oxford, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, the Highland Foundation for Wildlife and the National Trust for Scotland. The main threat to wildcats is hybridisation with feral domestic cats; this raises many challenges in correctly identifying wildcats from often fleeting sightings. The first action agreed by the group was an immediate targeted survey to identify the best surviving populations of wildcats.
Coordinated survey work will attempt to identify key regions where research and conservation actions should be focused. Other possibilities discussed included innovative approaches such as captive breeding and translocation of cats in the wild. However, the current emphasis is to obtain more up-to-date information on wildcat numbers and distribution, which will be used to prioritise action on the ground. The group aims to have a comprehensive action plan underway by next spring, forming a Scotland-wide approach to wildcat conservation overseen by SNH. Ron Macdonald, SNH's head of policy and advice, who chaired the meeting, said: "I am delighted that the meeting was extremely positive with all present committed to working together for the benefit of wildcat conservation. A range of options was discussed and we are open to suggestions of what actions can make a real difference for this species. What is important is that we are committed to urgently pressing on as a focused group to save this species. We all agree that it is in a parlous state and by working together we can help reverse the decline of the Scottish wildcat."
Wildcat (Lorne Gill, SNH).
Steve Piper of the Scottish Wildcat Association commented: "The meeting was a strong step in the right direction for the wildcat; I think everyone appreciated the urgency and need for very diverse groups to coordinate exceptionally well and give the wildcat a fighting chance — but we must keep up the momentum."
George Macdonald of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said: "Following on from our involvement with the Cairngorms Wildcat Project, we feel it is enormously important the efforts to preserve the wildcat continue at a critical time and we are happy to assist this process again. In particular, gamekeepers have managed large areas Scotland's countryside for many decades and we will be appealing to our members to help us with information about historic wildcat strongholds as well as up-to-date sightings in the wild. As keepers cover the ground at all hours they often see things others don't, and we can collate the information and feed this into the action group's data, helping to identify priority conservation actions for wildcats."
Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: "We are keen to extend our commitment to wildcat conservation by using the various specialised skills sets that we have at RZSS, such as captive husbandry, breeding expertise and an on-site genetics team, and play a key role within the SNH-coordinated Wildcat Conservation Action Group. All of the parties represented at the meeting are unanimous in the opinion that time is of the essence and this joint approach to saving this Scottish icon helps assure a successful outcome."
Individual members of the Conservation Action Group will work together in task groups focused on key aspects of wildcat conservation such as research, taxonomy, genetics and captive breeding, developing proposals alongside other experts and presenting these for approval by the core action group.