Scottish Wildcat website launched at Scottish Parliament

Labour MSP and champion of the wildcat species, Rhoda Grant, was on hand for the unveiling earlier today at the Scottish Parliament of the website for Scottish Wildcat Action.

Proceedings – and visitors – were carefully monitored by William the wildcat, on hand – or paw – to lend authenticity and a cuddle the real thing would never contemplate.

Scottish Wildcat Action, supported by the Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund, is delivering the first national conservation plan to bring back viable populations of Scottish wildcats.

The new website has easy-to-use features which encourage people in the Scottish Highlands to report sightings, volunteer with fieldwork, and register their interest to help.

Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: ‘The Scottish wildcat is one of Scotland’s most endangered mammals and urgent action is needed to ensure they have a future.

‘The Scottish Government is therefore committed to wildcat conservation and I am delighted to support the launch of this new website as part of the wider Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, which was launched by my predecessor, Paul Wheelhouse, in September 2013.’

Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP and Scottish wildcat species champion, said: ‘The Scottish Wildcat is part of our heritage that we are desperately seeking to protect.

‘We have a limited time to stop wildcats from disappearing but we also need to reduce the risks from hybridisation and disease from feral cats in the meantime. The launch of the website today will not only help to identify where our remaining wildcats are but it will also help to glean invaluable information on hybrids and feral cat sightings which will allow for the required action to be taken to reduce the hybrids and combat the transmission of disease.

‘The website will offer members of the public the opportunity to be involved in this fantastic project to save this most beautiful of species and will, I am sure, prove to be an invaluable resource in ensuring the wildcat’s survival.’

Dr Roo Campbell [Winnie the Pooh should have had wildcats instead of Tiggers], Scottish Wildcat Action Project Manager for the work in wildcat priority areas, said: ‘Local sightings of all wild-living cats are key in our efforts to save Scottish wildcats and the new website will allow our local communities to report sightings.

‘As part of our national work, our team of staff and volunteers will set up more than 400 trail cameras in wildcat priority areas to build up a picture of what’s out there, but public sightings will add valuable intelligence to this standardised monitoring.’

Trail cameras are motion-sensitive field cameras used for monitoring shy species that live in remote places.

Dr Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator at National Museums Scotland, and partner in the project, said: ‘The most useful sightings will be those that are followed up with a photograph so we can identify whether it is a wildcat, a domestic cat or a hybrid of the two. There are seven key characteristics we are looking for and each characteristic will be given a score of 1 for domestic cat, 2 for hybrid or 3 for wildcat.’

The website gives users further tips on how to identify a Scottish wildcat, but the general advice is if it looks like a large tabby cat with a thick ringed tail with a black blunt tip, it could be one of few remaining wildcats.

Hybrid and feral cat sightings are also important to the project, which aims to reduce risks of hybridisation and disease transmission through a co-ordinated Trap-Neuter [vaccinate] and Release [TNR] programme in the priority areas.

Numbers of Scottish wildcat are now so low that it is difficult for them to find and mate with other wildcats, so inevitably they have hybrid kittens with unneutered domestic cats.

This inter-breeding is contributing to the attrition of Scottish wildcats as a distinctive native species. The presence of unvaccinated feral cats, often in poor condition, can also lead to diseases, such as feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), being passed on to wildcats.

Wildcat priority areas identified by Scottish Wildcat Action are Strathpeffer, Strathbogie, Northern Strathspey, the Angus Glens, Strathavon and Morvern. Sightings and volunteers within these areas are particularly important to the conservation of the species but sightings from across Scotland are also welcomed.

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: ‘By working together as organisations and individuals we have a better chance of saving this rare native creature. It is thanks to players of the National Lottery that volunteers will be trained and cameras installed to track the elusive Scottish wildcat. However, it is down to us all to keep our eyes peeled, report any sightings, and give this species a brighter future.’

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