Welcome to our first guest blog from Dr Roo Campbell, project manager for the priority areas programme of Scottish Wildcat Action. Dr Campbell has significant experience of carrying out research on the behaviour and ecology of Scottish wildcats and received his PhD in Zoology from Oxford University. He is based at Scottish Natural Heritage, Inverness.
Scottish Wildcat Action: a round-up of 2016
The stage is set for the most exciting development to date: our first wildcat survey. Winter is the best time to try and get cats on camera as they are feeling hungry and amorous. It is their main breeding season after all. So the team in wildcat priority areas have been busy setting up hundreds of trail cameras to monitor cat populations and training an army of volunteers.
By the end of the Christmas holidays, everything will be ready for the biggest simultaneous wildcat survey ever conducted. We can then use all the information we collect on the cats to target further conservation work, such as the Trap Neuter Vaccinate Release programme (TNVR).
It has been an extraordinary effort by everyone and we are very lucky to have the support of so many talented staff and volunteers, not to mention the generous land owners who have granted us permission to set up cameras on their land. Thank you.
We're mainly using quail carcasses as bait but partridge would no doubt also be welcomed by our feline friends (shh, we have a secret stash of these in the freezer for those wildcats that have behaved themselves!). The problem is that meat bait also attracts pine marten, badgers and foxes who could take it before a cat finds it. So, we use pheasant wings hung up high (badgers can’t jump) and we have been experimenting with soaking the bait sticks with salmon oil. It’s beginning to sound like a three-course festive dinner, isn’t it? So far, it has been really effective.
In addition to the hard work put in by everyone, the success of this survey also depends on an element of meteorological luck. Will the winter be very mild? If so, the cats may be less hungry. Too much snow on the other hand will make the job of the volunteers more difficult. I have occasionally had to leave my vehicle stuck in snowdrifts while I continue on foot in snow shoes or skis. The goldilocks zone is a cold and dry winter, with a little bit of snow to help us find cat tracks. We are looking forward to sharing the results of the first survey with you in spring.
In the meantime, you can follow Scottish Wildcat Action on Facebook or Twitter to get regular updates and photos. Please do report any sightings of wild-living cats you see in the Highlands too. This will all add to our understanding of what cats are out there, whether they are wildcats, hybrids or feral cats.
Scottish Wildcat Action is the first national project to save the highly endangered Scottish wildcat from extinction. It is a partnership involving over 20 organisations, including: RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry Commission Scotland, National Museums Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Government, as well as its partners. Click here to get involved.