'2013 will decide whether the Scottish wildcat lives or dies': Highland tiger on its last legs following persecution by gamekeepers and interbreeding with domestic cats

Control by gamekeepers and interbreeding with domestic cats means an historic species is dying

A A A

The Scottish wildcat, Britain’s rarest mammal and one of Scotland’s most iconic predators, will soon be extinct if a last-ditch effort to save the species in 2013 fails, conservationists have warned.

The wildcat, which once roamed throughout the British Isles but has been confined to strongholds in the Scottish highlands since Victorian times, has gone into near-terminal decline in recent decades.

Known as the highland tiger, persecution by gamekeepers and interbreeding with domestic cats has reduced the population of true wildcats to only a few hundred and conservationists believe that the coming year represents the last chance to save the species.

“2013 will decide whether the wildcat lives or dies,” said Steve Piper of the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA). “It really is a deciding year. At present the consensus is that true wildcats still survive in Scotland, and that, with a significant and unified effort, they can still be saved and gradually brought back to a healthy population.”

A national action plan to protect the species will be launched in the new year by a broad spectrum of Government agencies, charities, gamekeepers and national park authorities – the first time that a truly national effort has been made to save the wildcat.

Experts from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Forestry Commission Scotland and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland are already involved in field surveys to determine the precise size of the remaining population. The best estimates place it at around 400 true wildcats, but the species’ nocturnal and shy nature, and its similarities to domestic and hybrid cats mean that no one knows exactly how many there are.

“Once we have an idea of where there are populations of true wildcats we can target our actions in those areas,” said Jenny Bryce, wildlife ecologist at Scottish Natural Heritage. “That will include raising awareness of neutering domestic cats and working with landowners to reduce risks to wildcats.”

A captive breeding programme and the movement of wildcats to other locations to improve the species’ distribution is also being considered. The wildcats’ current stronghold is in the Cairngorm National Park, where there has been a conservation programme in place for the past three years that will serve as a model for the national plan.

The Scottish wildcat, Felis silvestris grampia, resembles a domestic tabby cat but is larger, stronger and very different in temperament. The true wildcat has a distinctive set of markings, including a distinctive blunt, black-banded tail. They were once renowned for their ferocity and their image features in the heraldry of many of Scotland’s oldest clans.

However, years of persecution by has led to them becoming Britain’s rarest mammal, and sightings have become extremely rare.

“We really needed progress on protecting the species eight years ago when a group of scientists drew up a very good action plan for wildcats that never progressed,” said Mr Piper. “So it’s important that the pressure stays on and this one really starts making a difference out in the Highlands. If we can find enough wildcats, they can be saved.”

The Scottish wildcat resembles a domestic tabby, but with a blunt tail, and is renowned for its ferocity

Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreEXCLUSIVE The Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
News
news
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor