Wildcats are to be reintroduced into England and Wales for the first time in more than a century in an effort to save the species from extinction.
Wildlife charity Wildwood Trust will partner with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT) to restore several species to Britain, with a particular focus on the European wildcat.
Wildcats live across a range of habitats with preference to woodland, though many have adapted to grassland, moorland and agricultural land. In Scotland – the only place in the UK where wildcats exist in the wild – they live within woodland and shrubland.
Laura Gardner, Wildwood Trust’s Director of Conservation, said: “Our goal is to return a viable and self-sustaining wildcat population to its former range.
“As a leading British wildlife conservation charity, we have developed years of experience and expertise in breeding wildcats in support of the existing Scottish conservation project.
“We are now excited to be utilising these skills to benefit wildcat recovery more broadly across Britain.”
The wildcat once roamed all over the UK, but now can only be found in the Scottish Highlands. The decline began in the 16th century when wildcats were hunted and persecuted. Since then, the species has suffered major habitat loss and are at risk of feline diseases. Today, breeding with feral, domestic cats is the main threat to the wildcat’s existence, which dilutes wildcat genetics.
The reintroduction of the animals will mark the first major predator to be reintroduced to the UK in modern times. With very few carnivorous predators in the UK, the wildcat keeps prey densities of animals such as hares, rodents and rabbits (a non-native species) in check, playing an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
Wildwood Trust, along with its partners, hope to build 10 new wildcat breeding facilities across two sites in Herne Bay, Kent and Escot, Devon.
Each facility will hold a pair of breeding cats, who usually mate between January and March, before their litters, born in April or May, are later released into the wild.
Experts from the University of Exeter are currently researching suitable locations for reintroduction. Any noise or disturbance can cause stress for kittens so their homes must be out-of-sight.
It is hoped the project will run for 10 to 20 years.
Wildwood Trust needs £50,000 to complete the build of the facilities in Kent and Devon and has launched an appeal to raise funds. Donations can be made via Wildwood Trust’s website.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.