Guest blog – Response from the Saving Wildcats team

Scottish Wildcat (Felis sylvestris) in pine forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Photo: Scotland The Big Picture

Dear Mark,

Following a blog published on your website in January, we thought we should get in touch. We, Saving Wildcats, are a partnership project that aims to restore wildcats to Scotland through captive-breeding and release. We believe it’s our responsibility to address the inaccurate information within Dominic Woodfield’s guest blog.  

The Saving Wildcats project is the next phase in wildcat conservation in Scotland, following on from the work of the Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) project which ended in 2020. Both of these national partnership projects have been a combined effort of a diverse group of wildcat experts. From the field ecologists that carried out some of the first field surveys decades ago, to those who designed the first camera-trapping protocols and tested them across northern Scotland, to the museum specialists and other academics, the geneticists, naturalists, foresters, vets, and even non-specialists members of the public who carried out vital wildcat conservation on a voluntary basis. Not to mention the countless other members of staff working to keep the projects running.
  

Photo: Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

We strongly feel that the blog on your website does these people a serious disservice. The author, who confessed to not being a wildcat specialist, has either missed or ignored significant published research. As a result, we feel that the conclusions the author has reached are, unfortunately, not only misleading but entirely incorrect. 

The main point seems to be that there have not been enough rigorous surveys for the wildcat in Scotland, which leads the author to conclude that wildcats being declared ‘functionally extinct’ and the subsequent population restoration project are both premature. However, there is no mention of the extensive survey literature from the past decade, which is comprehensively reviewed by the Breitenmoser et al. (2019) report repeatedly cited in the blog itself. Despite this, the piece goes on to question the landmark conclusions and recommendations that the Breitenmoser et al. (2019) report contains. 

Briefly, Breitenmoser et al. (2019) is a comprehensive review/assessment of conservation activity for the Scottish Wildcat by representatives from the Cat Specialist Group of the IUCN. It was written by some of the world’s leading cat conservation specialists. The report was commissioned by the Scottish Wildcat Action Steering Group in 2018, after three years of extensive survey data failed to find significant evidence of wildcats remaining in Scotland. It is freely available online, please read it here: 

Wildcat in Scotland – Review of conservation status and activities | NatureScot 

We’d also like to address the assertion that “large-scale camera trapping that allows this technique [pelage scoring] to be applied more widely and effectively has only recently become a practical proposition. There have been no studies that have applied these more effective techniques rigorously at national scale”. This is factually incorrect. Here is the peer-reviewed evidence: 

Dr Kerry Kilshaw, at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), first developed the use of camera-trap surveys for wildcats in Scotland, and subsequently used the technique to conduct wild-living cat surveys across the entirety of northern Scotland (23 sites). Dr Kilshaw went on to publish her PhD Thesis on this topic in 2015. Her estimate of wildcat population size used by SWA is based on extensive national camera-trap survey data that uses the pelage scoring method developed by Dr Andrew Kitchener, of National Museums Scotland.  

Here are just a few of her publications, all of which are available online at the ‘Scottish Wildcat Project’ page of WildCRU: 

  1. Kilshaw, K., Montgomerey, R.A., Campbell, R.D., Hetherington, D.A., Johnson, P.J., Kitchener, A.C., Macdonald, D.W. and Millspaugh, J.J. (2016). Mapping the spatial configuration of hybridization risk for an endangered population of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) in Scotland. Mammal Research 61(1), 1-11. This publication includes data from an additional 4 sites collected as part of the Cairngorms Wildcat Project. 
  2. Kilshaw, K. (2015). Introgression and the current status of the Scottish wildcat. DPhil, University of Oxford, pp 232. 
  3. Kilshaw, K., Johnson, P.J., Kitchener, A.C. and Macdonald, D.W. (2014) Detecting the elusive Scottish wildcat Felis silvestris silvestris using camera trapping. Oryx 01/2014 
  4. Silva, P., Kilshaw, K., Johnson, P.J., Macdonald D.W. and Rosalino, L.M. (2013). Wildcat occurrence in Scotland: food really matters. Diversity and Distributions, 19(2):232–243 
  5. Silva, P., Rosalino, L.M., Johnson, P.J., Macdonald D.W., Anderson, N. and K. Kilshaw (2013). Local-level determinants of wildcat occupancy in Northeast Scotland. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 59(3):449-453 
  6. Kilshaw, K. (2011). The Scottish Wildcat: Naturally Scottish Series. SNH publication. pp. 58 
  7. Kilshaw, K. & Macdonald, D. W. (2011) The use of camera trapping as a method to survey for the Scottish wildcat. Scottish Natural Heritage Report 479.  

The next important publication is the Cairngorms Wildcat Project Report 2009-2012 (Hetherington and Campbell, 2012), which Mr Woodfield does cite (albeit wrongly) with reference to surveys of limited geographical scope. The full report is also freely available online:  
 
The Cairngorms Wildcat Project – final report.pdf (NatureScot) 

The project was, in its own words, a “practical trial of targeted conservation actions”, deliberately focused on the Cairngorms National Park (CNP). The surveys which took place across five estates complemented Dr Kilshaw’s wider national survey effort by focusing on the Cairngorms and followed the same systematic methodology. The CNP may only be one area within northern Scotland, but it is the largest National Park in the UK (1,748 square miles) and of disproportionate importance in terms of wildcats, because it contains relatively high amounts of suitable habitat and was considered a potential population stronghold. Unfortunately, the surveys concluded that wildcats were “very rare”, even a decade ago.  

Dominic Woodfield also fails to mention the national surveys carried out by NatureScot, known then as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), in 2013-14 at nine sites across northern Scotland, using the camera-trap methodology developed by Dr Kilshaw. Again, this information is available online, published as Littlewood et al. (2014): 

NatureScot Commissioned Report 768: Survey and scoping of wildcat priority areas | NatureScot 

NatureScot (previously SNH) also commissioned a study by Dr Scott Newey, a population ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in 2014. This study assessed optimal design for wildcat camera-trap surveys:
 

Newey, S.; Potts, J.; Irvine, R.J. (2015) Simulation study to inform the design of wildcat camera trap monitoring protocols., Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 899. 

But the most extensive surveys of all were the most recent: the camera-trap surveys run by SWA between 2015-2020 in six ‘Wildcat Priority Areas’ across northern Scotland. It is worth noting that those six Priority Areas were chosen from nine locations, based on the prior survey work carried out by Littlewood et al. (2014) that showed little or no evidence of wildcat presence in most potential sites. The areas selected all had some recent evidence of ‘wildcat’ presence (where a wildcat is defined using a pelage score threshold). They were the largest camera trap surveys ever carried out for wildcats worldwide and remain the largest systematic camera surveys in Scotland (80-140 camera traps spaced 1.5km apart across suitable wildcat habitat for 60 days – based on the recommendations from Newey et al. 2015). The surveys followed the methodology developed by Dr Kilshaw (with the exception that 1 camera was used per camera station, rather than two, to allow greater geographical coverage) and were conducted annually/biannually over winter in all six Priority Areas. The Priority Areas were all between 100-450km2 in size, the largest being the Morvern peninsula on the west coast. Surveys repeatedly identified no phenotypic wildcats. Not only that, SWA collected genetic data from roadkill cats across the whole of northern Scotland, and from trapped cats (caught during trap-neuter-release programmes of feral domestic cats) within Priority Areas. SWA also collected public sightings data for 5 years, and continue to do so, via iRecord.  Furthermore, SWA partners invested over 10,000 camera-trap nights, at 268 camera locations, surveying over 30 other areas outwith the six Wildcat Priority Areas. Only three possible wildcats were identified in the process.

After assessing all the data collected during the 5-year period, from camera trap surveys, genetic work, public sightings, and roadkill analysis, SWA did not find evidence of significant, viable wildcat populations. The lack of any wildcats was so alarming that SWA commissioned the IUCN to review the conservation activity while the project was still ongoing, because the project could no longer justify the in-situ conservation measures, which were designed to protect existing wildcat populations, when there was so little evidence of any wildcats remaining. This information is all described in the report by Breitenmoser et al. (2019) and will be detailed in forthcoming reports from SWA.

Finally, we’d like to refer to the current status of the remaining ‘wildcat’ population. This is clearly illustrated by this recent exhaustive genetic analysis by Senn et al. (2019), also referenced by Breitenmoser et al. (2019) and freely available online: 

Distinguishing the victim from the threat: SNP‐based methods reveal the extent of introgressive hybridization between wildcats and domestic cats in Scotland and inform future in situ and ex situ management options for species restoration – Senn – 2019 – Evolutionary Applications – Wiley Online Library 

This study analyses genetic data from hundreds of samples dating from across the past century and conclusively demonstrates that the wild-living cat population is a ‘hybrid swarm’. It also highlights that there have been no ‘wildcats’ identified in field samples from the past decade that reach the genetic threshold required to be considered a ‘wildcat’ as opposed to a hybrid.  

We appreciate that this letter is lengthy and contains a lot of detail on publications, but we felt it was necessary to be thorough in our response to Mr Woodfield’s blog. Misleading information such as this significantly undermines the urgency of genuine wildcat conservation efforts by perpetuating the myth that “wildcats are still out there; we just haven’t looked hard enough”. Yes, there may still be some wild-living wildcats in Scotland, but it is extremely unlikely that there is a viable population remaining hidden. This is a very sad reality to face, but the extensive research efforts cited above built the foundations for our current project, which offers hope for the wildcat as we work towards restoring this iconic species to Scotland.  

We understand that there is a lot of media information about wildcat conservation in Scotland, some of which can be confusing, particularly when misleading or factually incorrect information is shared. So, for anyone who would like us to elaborate on anything we’ve discussed, or those who have any further questions about wildcat conservation efforts in Scotland, past or present, please do get in touch with us directly. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. 

Best wishes, 

The Saving Wildcats Team 
savingwildcats.org.uk     |     @saveourwildcats 

Scottish Wildcat (Felis sylvestris) stalking along track in pine forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Photo: SCOTLAND The Big Picture
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15 Replies to “Guest blog – Response from the Saving Wildcats team”

  1. Having read the above letter it is fair enough for one organisation to correct what they feel are incorrect or not accurate statements from another.
    However the most important matter in all of this is who or what person or organisation is officially in charge of saving the wild cat . Overall single point responsibility is normally very important for the success of any project. When I read some of these articles on this subject there seems to be so many different parties involved in “Saving the Wild Cat” that it is very unclear as to how effectively the project is working, or who is in overall charge and how the various parties are pulling together.
    I may have not fully understood the interrelationships on all of this, and that actually it is in fact clear but I have my doubts. I just hope the various parties are not “rowing their individual boats”. Having a good and clear organisation, for the successful execution what is a very important, vital and complex project is critical.
    For the sake of the wild cat, I hope that these aspects are not missing.

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    1. Hi Alan,
      Thank you for your comment, we appreciate it must seem like there are a lot of organisations involved. Just to clarify, Saving Wildcats is a collaborative conservation project between a number of partner and supporter organisations, along with other vital contributors, including all those cited in this letter. Saving Wildcats is responsible for restoring the wildcat to Scotland.
      The project is also supported by the UK wildcat conservation breeding programme, which has over 30 members.
      All those involved share the same vision of restoring wildcats in Scotland through this evidence-based approach.
      You can find further information on our website: savingwildcats.org.uk

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  2. With a Hybrid swarm out there this is not going to be your standard reintroduction of say he white tailed sea eagle.
    How are you going to prevent your presumably (fairly?) pure release stock from being overwhelmed genetically, eventually, or this is going to be a new version of the problem of island nature reserves just genetically “fenced” I cannot see you ever going to be able to relax your fencing work.
    A bit of collaborative work expanding the range of types of “rag doll” non hunting strain cats and supplying the locality ot meet the need of cats would be of general benefit (and to the rest of the country)

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    1. Hi Andrew,
      Both pre and post release, one of our project aims is to mitigate any potential threats, which will include working with local communities to encourage responsible pet ownership. We will also be supporting, and participating in, a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release programme for feral domestic cats, in and around the project area, to reduce the risk of interbreeding and disease transfer.
      The Saving Wildcats project aims to release ~20 wildcats per year from 2023, and our field team will closely monitor the released animals with GPS tracking collars and remote camera traps.
      One of the reasons Scotland's potential wild-living population is considered non-viable is because any remaining individuals are so fragmented, that they are much more likely to meet and interbreed with a feral cat than another wildcat. By releasing an appropriate number of wildcats into an identified project area (in this case, the Cairngorms National Park) over the course of a number of years, whilst simultaneously mitigating threats to that population, will give the wildcats the best chance of survival and the opportunity for that population to thrive.
      The Saving Wildcats team will then go on to assess other potential release sites around Scotland, to mimic the same approach.
      For further information, please visit the FAQ section of our website: savingwildcats.org.uk/frequently-asked-questions

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    2. Since your exhaustive camera trapping 2015-2020 yielded such meagre results, can you tell us why you posted a blog by one of your officers calling Clashindarroch a “wildcat wonderland” in January 2018 ?

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  3. People have been talking about saving the Wildcats most of my lifetime.
    Have any of these organisations actually found a safe area for them and started releases?
    I read that there are plans to release cats in Devon very soon!

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    1. Hi Daniel,
      Our project area is the Cairngorms National Park, based on the aforementioned research, and our field team are currently surveying the area for the most appropriate release sites, based on a range of factors, inc. habitat type, prey availability and the threats to the wildcats in and around those areas.
      Both pre and post release, one of our project aims is to mitigate any potential threats, which will include engaging with local communities to encourage responsible pet ownership, as well as working with landowners and managers to reduce the risk of accidental persecution. We will also be supporting, and participating in, a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release programme for feral domestic cats, in and around the project area, to reduce the risk of interbreeding and disease transfer.
      The Saving Wildcats project is focused solely on restoring the wildcat to Scotland, although we would support other wildcat recovery projects that follow a collaborative and best practice approach.

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      1. I would be more concerned with deliberate persecution!
        Better get some gps collars for those released cats as I am predicting that many of them will end up in snares and and that finding them and treating them is going to take up a lot of your time!
        How long has this project been going on for?
        How many cats have been released?
        Why concentrate on the Cairngorms when it's one of the worst wildlife crime hotspots in the country?

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        1. Hi Daniel,
          The project officially began at the end of 2019, but due to numerous delays, mostly as a result of the pandemic, we were only really able to start making progress at the end of last year. As this is an EU-Life funded project, we are scheduled to run until 2026, but after that, we aim to continue work within the project area and assess other potential release sites around Scotland.
          We aim to release ~20 wildcats per year from 2023, and our field team will closely monitor all of the released animals with GPS tracking collars and remote camera traps.
          The Cairngorms National Park, in addition to extensive conservation work and an existing scientific research base, has relatively few landowners, many of whom have conservation objectives. It is also one of the largest continuous areas of potential suitable habitat in northern Scotland, with good prey availability and more potential for reducing threats, given the remote setting.
          We hope that helps answer your questions, but there are much more detailed responses to all of them, inc. why the CNP was selected as the project area, on the FAQs section of our website: savingwildcats.org.uk/frequently-asked-questions

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          1. All I can say is good luck. I hope your plan is successful.
            It would be amazing to establish a self sustaining population of wildcats.
            I look forward to hopefully catching a glimpse of one!

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      2. only problem is the Cairngorms National Park is a glorified grouse park. Will the cats be free from persecution?

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  4. Scotland faces a stark choice on this issue. We can have Wildcats, or we can have domestic cats, but we cannot have both. Either we euthanise every domestic cat in the land, or we give up on having Wildcats. Personally, I am okay with the former. The domestic cat is the world's cutest ecological disaster, and which is nothing more than a vector for toxoplasmosis, but too many people will refuse to accept that. Humanity sucks.

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  5. I missed this guest blog until it was brought to my attention a couple of days ago so apologies that my reply is rather late. I read that Saving Wildcats are suggesting that my January blog contained inaccurate and misleading information. Therefore, I feel it is necessary to provide a short reply.

    In writing my blog, I did not 'miss or ignore significant published research'. My blog challenges as premature the conclusion reached by Breitenmoser et al. (2019) and adopted by Saving Wildcats and the Scottish Government that, in effect, the wildcat is beyond saving in situ in the wild. The conclusions of that report are based on precisely the same research that is set out in the above Saving Wildcats response. The sum total of Saving Wildcats’ complaint seems to be that I have not included a full list of the references that are listed at the back of the Breitenmoser et al. (2019) report.

    As such, it is helpful that Saving Wildcats’ response sets out which of the papers drawn upon by Breitenmoser et al that they feel counter the criticisms I set out about the 'official' conservation effort directed towards the species over the last decade. I invite readers to read these and come to their own conclusions as to whether any constitute, for example, a 'rigorous application of the latest survey techniques at national scale'. One might for example like to reflect on whether camera trapping at 23 sites across an entire nation is a robust basis to declare a species functionally extinct in the wild. One might also like to reflect on whether the nine sites surveyed by the then Scottish Natural Heritage in 2013-14 constitute a sample size consistent with a ‘nationwide’ survey (as claimed). It’s all a bit like going fishing for sticklebacks with a roll of chain link fencing.

    The residual uncertainties this leaves are neatly captured by the statement by Saving Wildcats above that “Yes, there may still be some wild-living wildcats in Scotland, but it is extremely unlikely that there is a viable population remaining hidden.” I think this is a very significant and telling statement. The first part is extremely worrying as Saving Wildcats surely know that there ARE still wild-living wildcats in Scotland, or have they dismissed that too now? As regards a viable population, the entire point of my blog was that ‘extremely unlikely’ is just not good enough when one is making decisions about whether in situ conservation efforts should be given up on and a species consigned to the extinction bin. In the case of the Scottish wildcat, ‘extremely unlikely’ has been translated into ‘functionally extinct’, the result of which has been the redirection of conservation efforts and resources into a glitzy captive breeding and release programme, potentially including continental stock. I think this is wrong, and having read Saving Wildcats’ response to my blog, I still think this is wrong. And this is before one gets onto questions about the genetic provenance of the captive breeding and release stock and onto ethical questions about official euthanising of high pelage scoring wild caught cats on very dubious grounds.

    What’s important here is of course actually 'Saving Wildcats', not just arguing about it. On this, one has to ask why Saving Wildcats and their predecessors Scottish Wildcat Action have remained so silent on the proposals by Vattenfall, with the support of Forestry and Land Scotland and by extension the Scottish Government, to construct a large wind farm directly on one of the most important and perhaps THE most important site left for the wild living population. I guess if Saving Wildcats have already given up on any wild-living cats, they probably feel ‘what’s the point’.

    I say again, what's important here is action, not argument. Another six months have gone by. The Bern Secretariat have asked that the various actors and stakeholders in Scottish wildcat conservation come out of their trenches and work together. Being a latecomer to the arguments, I am not yet in a trench but rather in no-mans land. As dangerous a place as it is (see above!), this gives one quite a good vantage point and it was from that vantage point that I wrote the blog. Saving Wildcats may feel that 'functionally extinct' is a done deal, but for as long as I and many others disagree with that, there is work to be done on putting differences aside and working together for the sake of the species, not for the sake of personal or organisational reputations. Although it is irritating to be wrongly accused of misinformation and inaccuracy, I extend my (duly sanitised) hand to them.

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  6. Dear Saving Wildcats,
    I read this post with interest and I certainly share the concerns over misleading information potentially affecting the urgency for the Wildcat, particularly when information can be so contradictory. Your reference to the extent of the survey work is indeed impressive although does not detail that a large part of the survey work was carried out by a hard working volunteer network and was not just carried out by scientists and Wildcat experts. However, the results mentioned seem somewhat different to what the general public were previously led to believe.
    Below are a selection of quotes commencing in 2017 taken from SWA blogs etc. which refer clearly to the presence of Wildcats in the Strathbogie priority area.
    There is also a quote from the SNH (at the time) policies manager taken from The Independent referring to the presence of Wildcat.
    These are followed by some answers given by Mr. Fergus Ewing when asked about the subject in Scottish Parliament.
    Once again, things are a little vague as to how his final comment has been formed.
    Has the statement that no high DNA scoring cats have been found in Clashindarroch been based on all the high scoring pelage cats being tested and they have failed? Or has it been based on a small sample failing?
    Presumably, at least the 2 or 3 gps tagged “Wildcats” were DNA sampled with poor results which means the “unprecedented knowledge” being gained is from hybrid or feral cats?
    It was stated that Clashindarroch is a vital front for the conservation of Scottish Wildcats as it contained “over a dozen” Wildcats which were being studied with some being GPS tagged.
    I asked at the time what pelage scores the “over a dozen Wildcats” had been given and whether they had been tested. The answer from SWA was that they all scored over 17 (out of 21) but that none had been sampled.
    There was also a figure mentioned at one point of 19 Wildcats being found I believe from across different areas but I was unable to ascertain whether this included the "over a dozen"
    How is it we find ourselves in a position where there are now none? If there are none, why did SWA elect to announce that there were “over a dozen” without testing?
    There are without doubt some high scoring pelage cats in Strathbogie but have they all been DNA tested? If they were tested but failed to meet the SWA 75% Wildcat cut off why haven’t the previous misleading blogs been amended/removed ?

    Scottish Natural Heritage (now rebranded) are very quick to point out in press releases that DNA sampling is required to confirm a Wildcat.
    Quote from The Independent, SNH Policy Manager for Species Projects “Genetic testing is required to establish a Wildcats purity” “we are aware that there are Wildcats in that area because we have been finding them ourselves, but we don’t know much about this one at this stage” (This was with reference to a potential Wildcat shown in the media which had it seems escaped detection during SWA's extensive surveys within this priority area)

    TAKEN FROM SCOTTISH WILDCAT ACTION BLOGS FROM 2017 ONWARDS.
    Working day and night to protect wildcats in Aberdeenshire 08 Sep 2017:
    "10 Scottish wildcats were identified"
    'The Clash' - SWA and Forestry Commission Scotland answering wildcat calling in Strathbogie 22 Jan 2018:
    "It is no secret that Clashindarroch forest in Aberdeenshire holds some of the best wildcats found in recent years and represents a vital front in the battle to save this endangered mammal
    Over the last three years we have identified more than a dozen wildcats living in this area"
    "This is one of the sites that we are working with an Oxford University researcher to GPS collar a small number of wildcats"

    Walking in a wildcat wonderland 11 Jan 2018:
    "we headed to an area in the Clashindarroch forest where ???? had already detected wildcats"
    The work we are doing at Clashindarroch Forest – the facts 18 May 2018:
    “We see this in the GPS data we have on tracked wildcats"
    “from two wildcats we put GPS collars on recently”
    “trapped wildcats for screening and GPS collaring”
    “the wildcats trapped last winter were collared, sampled for genetic and disease screening and released immediately”

    Questions put to Mr. Fergus Ewing;
    Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party): To ask the Scottish Government what measures are being taken to protect Clashindarroch Forest wildcats from the impact of logging during kitten season?
    Taken from written answers from Mr Fergus Ewing- 14/11/2019
    “FLS is also supporting research on wildcats within Clashindarroch”
    “Operations such as clear felling, thinning and site cultivation are undertaken out-with the period March to June inclusive in areas where wildcat activity has been previously identified by camera trapping or GPS collar tracking”
    “fitting GPS tags to wildcats and is resulting in unprecedented knowledge on their use of forest habitats”

    “It should be noted that no confirmed wildcats with high genetic purity have been identified in Clashindarroch to date. As a consequence, all the above measures represent a comprehensive, precautionary approach”

    On a positive note, it seems that according to Mr. Ewing, felling is now supposed to stop in breeding season if wildcat activity is observed.
    This is likely a pointless debate now as the captive breeding exercise has progressed with significantly more finance behind it and perhaps the current plan is the only option left. However, it is hard to ignore the inconsistencies given how urgent the situation remains. I'd be genuinely delighted if these issues could be clarified fully.
    Having been privileged enough to have seen Wildcat in Scotland on two separate occasions many years ago I would love to see the return to a healthy population in Scotland but I am also concerned that the feral cat figures are likely increasing and without further extensive control with TNVR initiatives will continue to represent a huge threat to any expansion of Wildcat.

    One final concern is, are the captive cats being used for the breeding program also hybridised to some extent?

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  7. I'd like to focus on the completely achievable matter of creating a safe environment in which the restored wildcat population can thrive and extend into its natural habitats and territories.
    Nowhere in Scotland (or Britain) are present or future wildcat populations far from human activity which is where un-neutered cats of the domestic species come from.
    On mainland Europe, human settlements tend to be clumped, unlike the scatter pattern of Scotland. On mainland Europe distances are large providing a physical barrier between human/ residual wildcat populations - there, extensive original forest still exists with sufficient connectivity at scale to shield remnant wildcat populations.
    The IUCN 2019 report confirmed what the SWA TNR workers and my evidence had shown - they concluded there are "high and accelerating" numbers of un-neutered cats of the domestic species across Scotland.
    I have led twin petitions seeking to progress responsible cat ownership - it would be a clear simple message to owners of pet and farm cats - we already have ID chipping of horses and dogs as a legal requirement and it will very soon be introduced in England for cats.
    However, since domestic cats having an amazingly high reproductive capacity we need to add neutering for all owned pets and working cats, with exemption for persons who register as cat breeders.
    As things are, cat breeding is too often a casual un-planned backyard practice especially in this time of increased demand for pets with much waste and hence leakage of the 'excess' cats into the environment to live and reproduce/ hybridise freely.
    No one disagrees there are welfare benefits for cats from routine pre-pubertal neutering - petitions have received support without exception from diverse members of the public, cat lovers, cat haters, conservationists, veterinary scientists, farmers, land users, TNR cat rescue workers across Scotland, and many MSPs.
    Despite this my petition was met with pushback from the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary and her team (at the time) on grounds which seem inexplicable, as they had been briefed by the previous SWA steering group chair and its veterinary-led task group on the urgent need for stronger measures to ensure responsible cat ownership, not to mention by the IUCN.
    Some of the push-back was on grounds (ill-founded) that the public would not comply - something to do with 'policing it' - despite the fact that hard science shows that a clear message and everyone following the same rules is an effective and self-regulating approach to changing behaviours.
    The proposal for neutering all cats unless kept by a person registered as a breeder is a balance between domestic cat welfare and supply, and successful conservation measures to boost the fledgling wildcat populations. There is no point if wildcat populations remain isolated and in need of continual TNVR for evermore to safeguard them. Reintroduction rules require the factors responsible for the (near) extinction to be remedied and removed. To achieve this will require turning off the tap on the leakage of un-neutered domestic cats into the free-roaming environment i.e. neutering of domestic cats as routine unless exempt.
    There are fully referenced evidence papers on my SP petition page here https://archive2021.parliament.scot/gettinginvolved/Petitions/scottishcatpopulation
    - on my twin petition here
    https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/ban-keeping-un-neutered-cats-in-scotland
    - and on my website here
    https://catsliberation.wordpress.com.
    Who am I? a cat TNR volunteer who has worked for 25 years across Scotland on proactively trapping and neutering cats of the domestic species, who has provided advice and input on the Cairngorms Wildcat project which finished in 2012 and the SWA project which finished in 2020. I have no allegiance or bias other than to promote the welfare of cats of the domestic species (which means the numbers bred should not exceed the responsible owners available) and to see the wildcat populations thrive and extend in an extensive and connected way across Scotland, so that damaged ecosystems can be healed by the restoration of this presently missing important species.

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