One of Scotland’s most iconic animals will be protected under a scheme to create “safe places” for them to roam.
Scottish wildcats – or the tiger of the Highlands – are at risk of extinction, mainly from mixing with feral domestic cats but also due to disease and persecution.
Now Aberdeenshire Council has signed up to a new initiative to promote the wildcat, and “champion” the species.
As part of the national Scottish Wildcat Action plan, safe places for the breed are being established in six priority areas, including Strathbogie, near Huntly.
Within this area, action will be taken to conserve the wildcats, reduce the risks of interbreeding with feral cats, and to encourage land management practices that benefit them.
Residents of Aberdeenshire are also being encouraged to report any sightings of the elusive breed.
Emma Rawlings, Scottish wildcat priority areas project officer, said: “Scottish wildcats, which are our only native cat, are on the edge of extinction and urgently need action to save the shrinking populations in the wild.
“The main threats are from hybridisation with feral domestic cats, but also from disease and accidental persecution.”
The project is being run by Scottish Natural Heritage, and as well as Aberdeenshire Council, about 20 other organisations – such as the Cairngorms National Park – will also be playing their part.
It is the latest phase of a six-year plan to tackle the wildcat’s decline, which includes eventually developing a captive breeding programme with a view to boosting the population in the wild in the future – once the risks are addressed.
Councillors have previously been asked to champion a particular animal and support projects to raise awareness of them, and Aboyne councillor Katrina Farquhar has decided to support the wildcat.
Yesterday she said: “Aberdeenshire Council has identified a number of ways in which it can support the aims of this project, such as encouraging people to report sightings of wildcats and promoting responsible cat ownership, ensuring the needs of wildcat are taken into account when the council is considering planning other land use decisions.
“We hope that these combined actions will help ensure one of Scotland’s most mysterious creatures has a more certain future.”
Staff are now being trained to raise awareness of the threats faced by the wildcat, and what can be done to protect them and their habitat.