Feline fine, England?

Conservation efforts are being implemented to reintroduce the European wildcat into England and Wales in order to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. Wildcats, also known as the “Highland Tiger”, were once present across Britain but are now limited to the Scottish Highlands where only around 300 individuals remain. An extensive study published at the end of last year found that the Scottish population were “functionally extinct” due to interbreeding with domestic cats causing a shared gene pool to evolve. 

The Wildwood Trust and their cooperation with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Vincent Wildlife Trust aim to restore several species to Britain including the European wildcat (Felis silvestris). Around ten breeding facilities across both Kent and Devon are aimed to be built with the hope of kitten litters being released into the British wilderness for the next 10 to 20 years. This is with help from scientists at the University of Exeter who are researching potential obstacles to the initiative such as domestic cat owners, farming, and game shooting, along with identification of suitable locations for release. An appeal has been launched to raise the £50,000 needed for the project. 

European wildcats are thought to have been abundant across the UK since the Ice Age but were slowly driven to extinction since the 16th Century with the last known sighting in 1849. Continuous persecution primarily through hunting resulted in the species dying out by the 1860s. These ferocious predators are a keystone species and as such, are indicators of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. The re-introduction of wildcats across Britain could provide potential control over rabbit and rodent populations as well as competition with remaining predators such as foxes. Reintroduction efforts will help provide a second chance for this previously eradicated native species to return to their former habitat.

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Emily Hawkes

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September 2021
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