Frequently asked questions

Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) is a European partnership project dedicated to Scottish wildcat conservation and recovery.

Building on the work of Scottish Wildcat Action, the project is a step change for wildcat conservation in Scotland which now has an increased focus on captive breeding for release in order to safeguard this iconic species from extinction.

By bringing together the expertise and skills of national and international organisations, we can secure a future for the Highland tiger by breeding and releasing wildcats into the wild.

If you have a question, please read our FAQs below and email us if you need more information:

  • Why we need to save Scotland's wildcats

    Are wildcats extinct in Scotland?

    No, wildcats are classified as critically endangered. However, they are now on the brink of extinction in Britain following widespread population declines as a result of centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats.

    Sadly, Scotland’s wildcat population is now considered ‘non-viable’ following an independent review by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. This means that although there may be some wild-living wildcats in Scotland, there are too few of them and hybridisation is too far advanced for them to form a self-sustaining population. Without urgent action, our wildcats will be lost forever.

    The IUCN report concluded wildcat releases, at suitably prepared sites, are now essential for the recovery of the species.

    Why should we save the wildcat?

    The wildcat is our rarest and most threatened mammal.

    Once widespread, the species is now on the brink of extinction in Britain following widespread population declines as a result of centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats.

    The species also has a long history in Scottish culture and mythology. It was revered by many Highland clans who used the wildcat in their clan crests. The wildcat is also one of Scotland’s most iconic species, embodying wild nature for the Scottish Highlands.

    As human activity is responsible for the wildcat's decline, we have a responsibility to take action to protect our Highland tigers.

    Find out how you can help

    What’s the difference between Scottish and European wildcats?

    The scientific name for both Scotland’s wildcats and the European wildcat is Felis silvestris silvestris, meaning they are the same species.

    However, our wildcat population has been isolated for around 10,000 years, after Britain became an island. This means Scotland’s wildcats are a unique, highly threatened, sub-population of the European wildcat.

    Through careful population management, Saving Wildcats will ensure that the Scottish gene pool is preserved as much as possible, for future generations. There is potential for mainland European wildcats to boost the genetic diversity of the Scottish population, which could give them the greatest chance of survival in the wild. This is an option under consideration.

    How do we know if a cat is a wildcat?

    Due to interbreeding between wildcats and domestic cats (feral or pet), there are some wild-living cats that have a mixture of wildcat and domestic cat genes and characteristics. These are called hybrids.

    Saving Wildcats uses a combination of assessing coat markings (pelage scoring) and genetic tests to identify wildcats. This helps ensure that wildcats are protected, whilst hybrids and feral cats are neutered to prevent further hybridisation taking place.

    All wildcats released from the conservation breeding centre will have passed the pelage and genetic criteria to ensure that any hybridisation is at the lowest possible level.

     

  • How Saving Wildcats plans to save our wildcats

    What is Saving Wildcats?

    Saving Wildcats (#SWAforLife) is a European partnership project dedicated to Scottish wildcat conservation and recovery. We aim to prevent the extinction of wildcats in Scotland by releasing them into the wild.

    Following on from the work of Scottish Wildcat Action, our plans include building Britain's only large-scale conservation breeding centre, where wildcats will be trained and then released into the Cairngorms National Park.

    Find out more

    Why are releases needed if there are still wildcats in the wild?

    Wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Britain, following widespread population declines caused by centuries of persecution and habitat loss. More recently, the dwindling wildcat population has become increasingly threatened by genetic extinction caused by extensive interbreeding (also known as hybridisation) with domestic cats.

    Sadly, Scotland’s wildcat population is now considered ‘non-viable’ following an independent review by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. This means that although there may be some wild-living wildcats in Scotland, there are too few of them and hybridisation is too far advanced for them to form a self-sustaining population. Without urgent action, our wildcats will be lost forever.

    The IUCN report concluded wildcat releases at suitably prepared sites are now essential for the recovery of the species.

    Why are we focussing on the Cairngorms National Park?

    The Cairngorms National Park has, historically, been a key site in the wildcat range and was considered one of the last strongholds for species. In 2008, a major conference for wildcat conservation took place within the National Park. This resulted in the launch of the Park's first practical wildcat conservation project, ‘The Cairngorms Wildcat Project’, which was part of Scotland’s Species Action Framework.

    This project played an important role in developing stakeholder relationships, raising awareness, and establishing field protocols and methodologies. Later, this work was complemented by the Scottish Wildcat Action project, which expanded conservation action across Scotland, whilst maintaining a presence in the Cairngorms National Park.

    Find out more about the history of wildcat conservation in Scotland

    In addition to conservation work and an existing scientific research base, the National Park has relatively few landowners, many of whom have conservation objectives. It is also one of the largest continuous areas of potential suitable habitat in northern Scotland, with good prey availability and more potential for reducing threats, given the remote setting.

    The Saving Wildcats conservation breeding for release centre, based at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore, is where wildcats will be bred and prepared for release away from public view.

    We'll also be working internationally, as the project staff will receive some training at the Iberian lynx breeding centre in Spain and at Nordens Ark in Sweden.  

    How many wildcats will be released and when?

    We hope to carry out the first wildcat releases in 2023. This is dependent on a range of factors, including release site preparations, threat control measures and pre-release training programmes.

    The plan is to release 20 wildcats each year from the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding centre. We are also considering translocating wildcats from European populations to help boost the Scottish gene pool. These individuals will have undergone an extensive pre-release training programme to ensure they are prepared for life in the wild.

    All released wildcats will be fitted with GPS collars to ensure their movements, activity patterns and behaviours can be monitored. The project area will also be systematically monitored using a network of camera-traps.

    What is meant by pre-release training?

    Our pre-release training programme is our way of developing the necessary life skills that the cats will need for life in the wild. It is important to note that it is illegal to feed live prey to the wildcats. Instead, the programme will include the development of tools (e.g. automated feeders, lures etc.) that will help promote and expand key behaviours, as well as physical and mental fitness. Key behaviours include hunting, foraging, social interactions and avoidance toward human presence.   

    Before release, the wildcats will have veterinary health checks to ensure they are free from disease and physically healthy. 

    What happens after the six years are over?

    Although Saving Wildcats has secured funding for an initial six years, the recovery of wildcats will be a long-term project taking many decades.

    An important part of the project plan was building in sustainability and the continuation of actions. The project partners have already committed to supporting further wildcat recovery action beyond the six years.

    Saving Wildcats will fundraise throughout this time to ensure wildcat recovery can continue long into the future.

    You can help secure a future for Scotland’s wildcats.

    Will Saving Wildcats bring cats from Europe?

    Scottish wildcats are a sub-population of the mainland European population, not a sub-species. However, Saving Wildcats will preserve as many of the Scottish genes as possible through careful and selective breeding. The wildcats we release will predominantly be of Scottish origin.

    There is potential for mainland European wildcats to boost the genetic diversity of the Scottish population, which could give them the greatest chance of survival in the wild. This is an option under consideration. The European wildcats may come from either the European captive breeding programme or from the wild, where possible.

    If appropriate, we will also explore the option of wild-to-wild translocation as another means of increasing the gene pool of the Scottish population.

    While the IUCN red list assessment determines hybridisation with domestic cats is extensive and evident across almost the entire range of the wildcat in Europe, research has shown that the extent of hybridisation in Scotland is far greater than most other European countries. Any cats brought into the breeding programme or translocated will be screened for disease and hybridisation levels.

  • Our partners and supporters - and why they're involved

    Saving Wildcats project partners

    The conservation breeding for release of wildcats is being carried out by the Saving Wildcats partnership, led by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in collaboration with NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), Norden’s Ark and Consejería de Medio Ambiente y Ordenación del Territorio de la Junta de Andalucía.

    By bringing together the expertise and skills of national and international organisations, we can secure a future for the Highland tiger.

    Lead partner

    The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is the wildlife conservation charity that leads Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, as well as supporting a wide range of research and conservation projects in Scotland and around the world. With a mission to safeguard threatened species and connect people to nature, RZSS were a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action and are the current holders of the UK’s captive breeding programme.

    Other Scottish partners

    NatureScot (formerly called Scottish Natural Heritage) is Scotland’s nature agency, working to improve the natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. NatureScot promotes, cares for and improves Scotland’s natural heritage, enabling a greater awareness of nature and helping people to enjoy nature responsibly. Looking to the future, NatureScot promotes the sustainable use of natural assets now. NatureScot was the lead organisation in the Scottish Wildcat Action partnership.

    Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) is the Scottish Government agency responsible for managing Scotland’s national forests and land. FLS is focused on managing and maintaining the woodland of national forest estates through forest planning, planting, harvesting, working with local communities, and providing facilities and access for the public. Furthering the conservation of biodiversity is a statutory duty for FLS and the agency was a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action.   

    The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) was set up to ensure that the unique aspects of the Cairngorms – both the natural environment and the local communities – are cared for, sustained and enhanced for current and future generations to enjoy. Providing leadership to all those involved in the Cairngorms and working in partnership with a range of communities, businesses, non-government organisations and public sector partners to deliver practical solutions on the ground. The CNPA were also a key partner in Scottish Wildcat Action.

    European partners:

    Our European partners bring a variety of unique skills and expertise to the Saving Wildcats project.

    Both organisations have extensive experience with native species recovery projects and Junta De Andalucía leads the EU LIFE funded project for Iberian lynx, which is widely considered as one of the most successful recovery projects in the world.

    Saving Wildcats has a fantastic opportunity to learn from these partners, applying tried and tested techniques to both the conservation breeding for release centre and post-release monitoring actions.    

    Junta de Andalucia (Spain) leads Europe’s most successful carnivore reintroduction, having become dedicated to the recovery and conservation of Iberian lynx. Their extensive and proven experience follows several years of successful lynx reintroduction, as the lead partner of the EU LIFE Recovery of the historical distribution for Iberian lynx in Spain & Portugal project.

    Nordens Ark (Sweden) is a private, non-profit foundation dedicated to endangered species conservation. Whilst engaged in conservation, animal management, research, training, and raising awareness of biological diversity, Nordens Ark have led and partnered on multiple recovery projects and conservation projects in Sweden and overseas.

    Key Supporters

    In addition to support from project partners, Saving Wildcats is funded with the contribution of the LIFE Programme of the European Union and the generous support of the Garfield Weston Foundation, the National Trust for Scotland, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and The European Nature Trust.

    Find out more about our supporters

  • Saving Wildcats funding

    How much will it cost to save the species?

    Saving Wildcats is a £5.4 million project funded with the contribution of the LIFE Programme of the European Union and the generous support of RZSS, NatureScot, CNPA, FLS, Scottish Natural Heritagethe Garfield Weston Foundation, the National Trust for Scotland, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species, and The European Nature Trust.

    Our project plans include developing Britain’s first dedicated conservation breeding for release centre for wildcats, which will support a long-term vision for wildcat recovery in other key locations of Scotland 

    The first phase of Saving Wildcats runs for six years, but we believe there will be many economic benefits that will last long into the future. Scottish wildlife tourism plays a significant role in the Scottish economy and bringing wildcats back will boost wildlife tourism in the area and the surrounding local communities.   

    Find out how you can help save Scotland’s wildcats

  • Responsible cat owners and volunteers

    Will there be opportunities for volunteers?

    Yes. We aim to establish a core volunteer team that will have opportunities to get involved with key conservation work, including camera trap surveys and the Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return of feral domestic cats.

    There will also be opportunities for students or volunteers to assist at the Saving Wildcats conservation breeding centre, though these will be limited.  

    We’ll share opportunities with our mailing list, and on our social media channels, as they come up. Sign up to receive Saving Wildcats emails to be the first to know about news, events and chances to get involved.

    How do I report a wildcat sighting?

    While evidence shows there are very few wild-living cats that meet the genetic and pelage criteria for wildcats, you can submit your sighting/image(s) to iRecord, as our field team have direct access to this nationwide data. You can also download the Mammal Mapper App and submit your image(s) there.

    These databases will help our field team when we go on to assess additional potential release sites in the future.

    If you live within the Strathspey/Badenoch area, and you think you've photographed a possible wildcat, you can contact us directly by emailing wildcats@rzss.org.uk 

    Can you help me have my cats neutered, vaccinated and microchipped?

    We recommend all pet owners contact their local veterinary practices to explore the best options for neutering, vaccinating and microchipping their cats. Responsible pet ownership is vital to ensuring our plans for wildcat restoration are successful. 

    Can I have my pet cat tested for wildcat DNA?

    Unfortunately, genetic testing for wildcat DNA is a very expensive process and requires a blood test or plucked hair sample collection, which should not be carried out unnecessarily for welfare reasons. Therefore, these tests are currently not offered commercially.

    For research purposes, Saving Wildcats will offer to test suspected wildcats from within the project area or those that may otherwise contribute directly towards wildcat conservation in Scotland. For all other cases, our experts will assess cats based on their pelage score (coat markings).

  • Scottish wildcat behavior

    What do wildcats eat?

    Wildcats are predominantly small mammal hunters. They prefer to prey on rodents, such as mice and field voles, whenever readily available. They are also capable of catching larger species, such as rabbits and hare.

    A much less significant portion of their diet may include birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects.

    How many wildcats make a viable population?

    Based on previous wildcat survey and scoping work carried out in 2014, it was suggested that a population of 40 cats (20 male and 20 female) would stand a 95% chance of survival over 50 years. The survey also noted that such a population would need at least 4,000ha of suitable habitat, in a matrix of other habitat types.

    Habitat modelling of one site, within the Cairngorms National Park, showed that 37.3% of the habitat (around 22,123 ha) was of high quality, within a range of other mixed habitats.

    Saving Wildcats will release 60 wildcats, over a three-year period, with the aim of establishing a minimum population size of 40 wildcats. 

    Is there a danger to other cats near the project area?

    Wildcats prefer to avoid confrontation with other animals. Instead, they use a variety of communicative techniques to mark territories, den sites and to warn off other animals, such as scent marking, scats (faeces) and scratch posts. However, just like domestic cats, wildcats are protective of their territories and young, and they will defend them if provoked by other animals.  

    Although we know from the extensive level of interbreeding in Scotland that wildcats and domestic cats can exist in close proximity, it is anticipated that domestic cat presence in and around the project area will be minimal, following promotion of responsible cat ownership and threat control actions.

    As feral domestic cats and hybrids pose a significant risk to wildcats, through both hybridisation and disease, they will be controlled using a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return policy.

    In situations where the health of a feral domestic cat is compromised, or if they are considered a disease risk to wildcats, then they will be humanely euthanized by a qualified veterinarian.

    Are released wildcats a threat to people or livestock?

    No. Wildcats prefer to avoid humans and there is no evidence to suggest that they will be a threat to livestock. Wildcats specialise in small mammal prey, particularly rodents and rabbits.

    Just like domestic cats, wildcats are protective of their territories and young, and they will defend them if provoked by other animals. As with other wild animals, it is recommended people do not provoke or disturb wildcats in the event of any encounter.

    Occasionally, wildcats are known to take chickens. However, any chickens that are protected from other typical predators, such as pine martens, foxes and badgers, will also be protected from the low risk of wildcat predation.

    Would reintroducing lynx in Scotland affect our wildcats?

    Although there is ongoing research, we are not aware of any plans to reintroduce lynx to Scotland. That being said, Eurasian lynx and wildcats co-exist in similar habitats throughout Europe, as they did in Scotland for thousands of years. Lynx can kill wildcats but this is a very rare occurrence. In terms of potential competition for food, they hunt different prey species and each fills a different ecological niche. 

    Will restoring wildcats have any impact on capercaillie?

    Wildcats and capercaillie co-exist in countries across their European range, where they predominantly occupy different habitats. To the best of our current knowledge, there is no evidence that wildcats predate capercaillie. Wildcats primarily eat small mammals and preferentially eat rabbits when they are available. However, we will be conducting a thorough assessment of potential ecological impacts of wildcat restoration on capercaillie as part of the Habitats Regulations Appraisal required for any work conducted in European sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas). It's also important to note that capercaillie are still living alongside hybrid wildcats in Scotland today.  

    Will restoring the wildcat have any impact on pine martens?

    Wildcats and pine martens co-exist in countries across their European range. There is a large ongoing study on predator interactions within the potential release site and we will monitor any interactions between pine martens and wildcats as part of the project.

  • Managing threats to Scotland's wildcats

    When did hybridisation start in the UK?

    Data from museum specimens suggests that the hybridisation rate escalated sometime after the 1950s. A key turning point may have been during the 1970-1980s, when wildcats lost a key food source after repeated disease outbreaks in the rabbit population. This was in addition to intensive and widespread persecution prior to legal protection in 1988.

    Increases in road traffic and the development of roads may have also led to increases in wildcat deaths by vehicles, though it is unclear how important this is. Changes in land management practices, such as intensification of agriculture, as well as increased use of snaring and lamping (gamekeepers or farmers using a search light on board a vehicle to detect feral cats in the dark, then shooting them) for predator control, may also have had an impact on the species.

    The end result was too few wildcats within a landscape containing too many domestic cats, and hybridisation was the consequence.

    Now that hybridisation has started, curtailing further hybridisation is vital. Greater public awareness about the importance of being a responsible cat owner is crucial. Saving Wildcats encourages pet owners to have their cats microchipped, neutered and vaccinated, to help save Scotland’s wildcats and improve the health and wellbeing of their pets.

    Will Saving Wildcats cull feral domestic cats in the release site?

    No. As feral domestic cats and hybrids pose a significant risk to wildcats, through both hybridisation and disease, they will be controlled using a Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return policy.

    In situations where the health of a feral domestic cat is compromised, or if they are considered a disease risk to wildcats, then they will be humanely euthanized by a qualified veterinarian.

    Are wildcats protected by law?

    Yes. The wildcat is protected by national and international legislation.

    Since 1977, Felis silvestris has been included in Appendix II of CITES. The wildcat is listed on Annex IV of the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC and listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention as a “strictly protected fauna species”.

    Wildcats are also listed as a protected species under Scots law through the Conservation (Natural Habitat, & c.) Regulations of 1994 (as amended), listed in Schedule 2 of these regulations as a “European Protected Species of animal”.

    On 18 March 1988, the wildcat was added to Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, receiving full protection. The species was also added to the revised UK Biodiversity Action Plan list of Priority Species and Habitats in 2007, and to the Scottish Biodiversity List (under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004), as a species of principal importance for biodiversity conservation.

    In 2007, NatureScot included the wildcat on the list of species for priority conservation action under the Species Action Framework, due to its decline in distribution and abundance. The wildcat also became a key priority species of the Cairngorms Local Biodiversity Action Plan.

    It is an offence to deliberately or recklessly:

    • capture, injure, kill or harass a wildcat
    • disturb a wildcat in a den or any other structure or place it uses for shelter or protection
    • disturb a wildcat while it is rearing, or otherwise caring for, its young
    • obstruct access to a den or other structure or place wildcats use for shelter or protection, or otherwise deny the animal use of that place
    • disturb a wildcat in a manner or in circumstances likely to significantly affect the local distribution or abundance of the species
    • disturb a wildcat in a manner or in circumstances likely to impair its ability to survive, breed or reproduce, or rear or otherwise care for its young

    It is also an offence to:

    • damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal (whether or not deliberately or recklessly)
    • keep, transport, sell or exchange, or offer for sale or exchange any wildcat (or any part or derivative of one) obtained after 10 June 1994
    What protocol should landowners follow to protect wildcats when implementing legal predator control methods?

    Best Practice guidance for land managers conducting predator control remains consistent with previous wildcat conservation projects, which is to use precautionary methods wherever wildcats may be present (i.e. methods that allow visual discrimination between wildcats and low-scoring hybrids or feral domestic cats). For more information, you can view the protocol. Saving Wildcats will produce an updated version of this protocol shortly but the content and key messaging remains the same. 

    Saving Wildcats will use Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return to manage low-scoring hybrid and feral domestic cat populations within and around the potential release area, using the same guidance and criteria (pelage scoring) to identify wildcats versus low-scoring hybrids. 

    Our field team will work closely with local landowners and land managers as the project progresses to ensure we can support them where possible and encourage wildcat-friendly practices.  

  • Conservation breeding and the vital captive population

    What is a conservation breeding programme?

    Conservation breeding is the captive population management of a species that has a direct role in conservation action. In other words, animals in human care that can help to save their species in the wild.

    When a wild population is regarded as non-viable, like that of wildcats in Scotland, it means that there are simply not enough animals for the population to be self-sustaining. In situations like this, more animals need to be added from another population (known as translocation) or bred in captivity and released, if the species is to avoid extinction.

    Using animals from the captive population allows greater control on population sex ratios, age structure and genetic diversity.

    Learn more about the UK conservation breeding programme

    Are all the cats in the breeding programme 'pure' wildcats?

    Data published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Evolutionary Applications in 2019 details the genetic results from the captive population. This shows that the levels of wildcat DNA found in wildcats in captivity in the UK are considerably higher than those found in wild-living cats in Scotland.

    In 2017, all breeding, captive wildcats were genetically assessed for levels of hybridisation. Only those that passed the minimum genetic threshold were used for further breeding, and most cats in the breeding programme score much higher than the minimum threshold (75% - equivalent to one grandparent as a domestic cat).

    As of October 2019, there were 107 captive wildcats in the breeding programme. In contrast, only two wild-living wildcats from Scotland have passed this minimum threshold in the last five years.

    Has conservation breeding been successful for other recovery projects?

    Yes. Conservation breeding has been used in several successful endangered species recovery projects, including black footed ferrets and the California condor in North America, Arabian oryx in Oman, Saudi Arabia and Israel, golden lion tamarin in Brazil and European mink in Estonia, to name just a few.

    One of the most successful projects that continues today is the recovery of the Iberian lynx in Spain and Portugal. With conservation breeding centres playing a key role in their recovery, the Iberian lynx population has increased from under 100 animals in 2002 to over 650 animals in 2019. The lead partner for this Iberian lynx recovery project is now also a Saving Wildcats partner.

    How is the conservation breeding for release centre different from a zoo?

    The Saving Wildcats Conservation Breeding for Release Centre is a dedicated 'off-show' facility, where wildcats can live, breed and be prepared for life in the wild in large, natural enclosures away from human disturbances.

    Our breeding and pre-release enclosures will be situated in a remote, natural area of RZSS's Highland Wildlife Park, where no visitors are allowed. 

    What is the difference between the on-show and off-show enclosures?

    The on-show enclosures are those in the public area of RZSS's Highland Wildlife Park, where visitors can see the park's wildcats directly, watch them being fed, listen to wildcat keeper talks and explore the various education material and signage. The wildcats in these enclosures are still part of the UK captive breeding programme. 

    The Saving Wildcats off-show enclosures are not accessible to the public and are situated at the back of the park far away from the visitor areas. The area can however be seen from one of our viewpoints behind the markhor hill. These enclosures, and the wildcats in them, are managed in a way that supports our objective of preparing wildcats suitable for release by developing their natural behaviours and reducing their habituation to human presence.

  • Scottish Wildcat Action and other wildcat projects

    What happened to Scottish Wildcat Action?

    The Saving Wildcats project follows on from the work of the Scottish Wildcat Action partnership (2015 - 2020).

    Find out more about the history of wildcat conservation in Scotland

    Find out more about Scottish Wildcat Action

    Will work in the Scottish Wildcat Action Priority Areas end?

    No. The Priority Areas identified during the Scottish Wildcat Action project will still be important sites for continued research and engagement, as part of this next phase of wildcat conservation and recovery.

    An important element of Saving Wildcats is building on the successes of Scottish Wildcat Action and continuing valuable legacies. Many of the same methodologies, techniques and partnerships will be used.

    Any wildcats found in the Priority Areas that meet the required pelage and genetic criteria may be used to strengthen the gene pool of the release population.

    Does Saving Wildcats work with other wildcat projects and specialists?

    Yes. Project partners and staff from Saving Wildcats are represented on a number of global working groups and advisory groups in the field of conservation and reintroduction. The team have collaborated and consulted with other wildcat specialists and projects across Europe.

    Saving Wildcats also has an international advisory group, which includes leading specialists in species conservation, as well as wildcat behaviour and population management.

    Our lead partner, RZSS, has managed the UK's captive wildcat population since 2015, working with many zoos, wildlife parks and private collections to ensure they have the potential to support conservation efforts. In fact, 2020 was a record breeding year for wildcats. The zoos and private holders that welcomed wildcat kittens included RZSS’s Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park, Aigas Field Centre, Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Belfast Zoo, British Wildlife Centre, Camperdown Wildlife Centre, Derek Gow and Five Sisters Zoo.

    Is this the first time wildcats will be released in the UK?

    Yes, this project will involve the first planned conservation translocation of wildcats in Britain. It is designed to be in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.

    Saving Wildcats is the first wildcat release project in the UK that has secured long-term funding and has an action plan for high capacity release, as well as a detailed plan for threat control, with support from the national government.

    Discussions are ongoing with other wildcat stakeholders, within the UK, who are proposing wildcat releases in England and Wales. In principle, we support other wildcat recovery projects that follow a collaborative and best practice approach.

  • Outside our project area

    What will we do about any wildcats found outside the project area?

    Saving Wildcats will continue to undertake some scoping work outside of the project area, as well as staying engaged with volunteer groups within the Scottish Wildcat Action Priority Areas.

    In the event that potential wildcats are identified in areas outside of the release site, then action will be taken to collect scientific samples from these individuals to assess hybridisation levels, pelage score and disease status.

    If cats are found that pass the pelage and genetic criteria then the Saving Wildcats project team, in discussion with other key parties, will review the best course of action. In situations where these cats are isolated from other wildcats, or where threats remain, there will be potential for translocation to the release site.

    Wildcats occupy relatively large home ranges, and the individuals we release as part of the project will inevitably disperse outside of the initial release area. It is important to note that the chosen release area will be assessed to ensure it is large enough to support a viable population of wildcats.

    All released wildcats will be GPS collared. Their movements within and outside the release area will be closely monitored post-release, so that potential risks to the animals can be effectively mitigated. We will also be developing relationships with communities, pet owners, landowners and estates surrounding the release area, to make them aware of the project and to ask for their help in protecting and monitoring these animals as they move across the landscape.

    Wildcats and Clashindarroch forest

    While Clashindarroch forest is outside of the Saving Wildcats project area, we remain in close contact with our partners at Forestry and Land Scotland on any developments regarding potential wildcat sightings. We will be sure to assist them whenever appropriate, for example by conducting genetic analysis. 

    Read our more detailed response on ongoing press coverage of the Clashindarroch Forest.