Ross link as ‘knife-edge’ wildcat population thrown £1m lotto lifeline


Efforts to protect the wildcat have been given a major boost

A ground-breaking co-operative conservation project aimed at helping the threatened Scottish wildcat is celebrating a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of nearly £1 million.

Strathpeffer is amongst six broad areas chosen to focus on in a bid to protect a population described this week by one expert as being “on a knife-edge”.

Wildcat Action – which involves more than 30 organisations, community groups and landowners – will over the next five years focus on tackling the decline of Scottish wildcats in six recently identified priority areas.

The work is a key part of delivering the national Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, launched last year.

Scheme backers say the project means working with local communities to deliver benefits for the species, an important part of Scotland’s natural heritage.

A major focus of the project is on tackling long-term risks to wildcats. This involves raising awareness of wildcats and the threats they face and includes provision of training in wildcat surveys and wildcat-friendly land management practices.

Schools and community projectswill be encouraged to get learning about wildcats, and responsible domestic cat ownership.

The work will also co-ordinate neutering and vaccination of feral cats and will monitor the wild-living cat populations through an extensive network of trail cameras.

The project plans to work with land managers and local volunteers to deliver much of this work.

Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “We have some incredible native wildlife in Scotland but our species and habitats are under constant threat.

“We are delighted to see such a strong partnership working together for the good of this iconic Scottish species. We hope that with the Heritage Lottery Fund grant announced today, communities across the country will be inspired and empowered to safeguard the existence of these rare creatures.”

The funding news for the project, which has received significant political and community backing, was also warmly endorsed.

Rhoda Grant, Highland and Islands Labour MSP and wildcat champion, said: “I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded this grant for taking forward the conservation action plan in the six priority areas identified, four of which are within the Highland and Moray areas that I represent.

“The work being done by all those involved in the action plan to ensure the survival of the wildcat is to be commended. The determination of the group is heartening and I know this money will be put to good use. It is a privilege to champion this beautiful species, which is very much a part of our heritage.”

Ron Macdonald, director of policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage said: “We are thrilled to receive the support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the partner organisations and other contributors to the project. We now have the package in place that will hopefully safeguard wildcat populations in these six priority areas.”

Dr Andrew Kitchener, principal curator of vertebrates, National Museums Scotland, said: “”This is wonderful news for the Scottish wildcat, whose population is on a knife edge. This Heritage Lottery Fund award makes it possible to get many people involved on the ground in doing something positive for the wildcat. National Museums Scotland is looking forward to making its contribution to this much needed conservation effort.”

Alex Hogg, the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association chairman, said: “We have already done work in terms of wildcat identification with our members and, due to their practical knowledge, gamekeepers can be very useful in wildcat conservation in terms of trapping, field skills and the sighting of cameras, all of which will be useful in the ongoing effort.”

Lindsay Mackinlay, nature conservation advisor for the National Trust for Scotland, said: “We are probably in the last chance saloon for the Scottish wildcat in this country. We need to act now to save this fantastic animal and the support received from the Heritage Lottery Fund gives us the greatest opportunity yet to do just that. A Scotland without the Scottish wildcat would feel a much less wild place to live.”

Wildcat Action has received letters of support from: Councillor Gail Ross, Highland Council Wildcat Species Champion; Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey; Rhoda Grant, Highlands and Islands MSP and LINK wildcat Species Champion; Gordon Buchanan, wildlife cameraman and television presenter and Pete Cairns – Freelance conservation photographer.

Heritage Lottery Fund monies will be matched by contributions from the project partners, bringing the total project to £1.95million over five years.

Scottish Natural Heritage is the lead partner in the project working alongside the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Sciences (University of Edinburgh), the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA), the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), National Museums Scotland (NMS), the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).

Other financial contributions to the project are being made by Highland Council, Forestry Commission Scotland, MSD Animal Health and Chester Zoo.

The wildcat Priority Areas are: the Angus Glens; Strathbogie (near Huntly); Morvern; northern Strathspey; Strathavon and Strathpeffer.

Project resources and support for land managers to adopt wildcat-friendly predator control will be targeted to these areas.

This story was first published by the Ross-shire Journal

1 comment to Ross link as ‘knife-edge’ wildcat population thrown £1m lotto lifeline

  • As a regular bird watching visitor to The Highland it’s great to see such an iconic species getting some support. Now wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a similar scheme for the raptors?