The main threat to wildcats is hybridisation with feral domestic cats which 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.
Survey work will be coordinated with the intention of identifying key regions to focus research and conservation actions within.
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 in turn 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 Scottish Natural Heritage.
Alex Hogg, Chairman 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.”
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.