June 3, 2020

Wildwood joins partnership to restore native wildcats to Britain

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Durrell, along with the Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), is delighted to have the Wildwood Trust joining a partnership to restore species of conservation concern to Britain, with a particular focus on the European wildcat (Felis silvestris).

The European wildcat is one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in Britain. The species disappeared from England and Wales a century ago because of persecution during a time when all predators were considered as vermin. A healthy population of wildcats will help restore the balance in the ecosystem by controlling numbers of prey animals, such as rabbits and rodents, and predators such as foxes through competition for food.

Durrell, VWT and Wildwood are pooling their skills, knowledge and experience to establish a self-sustaining population of wildcats outside of Scotland. Currently, the only wild population of these rare cats is in the remote Highlands. However, this small population has been declared “functionally extinct” as interbreeding has resulted in them having the same gene pool as domestic cats. The long-term goal of this project is to establish a self-sustaining wildcat population in an ecologically suitable landscape in Wales and/or England. Most importantly, the team will ensure the needs and views of local communities are taken into full account during this project.

There will be many stages to ensure a successful reintroduction of wildcats. As a first step, Durrell and VWT have undertaken a preliminary scientific feasibility study to identify potential landscapes for reintroduction. The team are now conducting in-depth ecological and social feasibility studies to find out which areas are most suitable. Some of this detailed work is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Exeter through a joint PhD studentship.

Wildwood will be using their experience in breeding wildcats to help create the new wild population, with the kittens being released over many years. Wildwood will be launching a national appeal later this year to raise funds to build the breeding facilities.

This partnership brings together three organisations with a wealth of expertise in intensive species-recovery programmes, particularly in captive breeding and species introductions. Durrell’s ‘Rewild our World’ strategy focuses on recovering wildlife, reviving ecosystems and reconnecting people to nature in countries around the world, including the UK. VWT has worked for over 40 years to monitor and recover mammal species of conservation concern in the UK, Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. Wildwood’s mission is the protection, conservation and rewilding of British wildlife. Combining the knowledge of Durrell, VWT and Wildwood is essential to delivering this vital project.

Photo credits: Wildwood / Helen Haden / Mark Williams

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