Scottish wildcat

Wildcats used to wander the whole of the UK, having first come across from Europe thousands of years ago when southern England was connected by land to the Netherlands and parts of Germany. Over the centuries, through hunting and loss of habitat these cats became more rare in England, and by the early 1900s they could only be found in the sparsely populated Highlands of Scotland. Today, even here they have become an endangered species, with only about 300 animals living in the wild.

Kendra and kitten

Scottish wildcats look quite like domestic tabby cats, but their heads are broader, their tails thicker with distinctive black stripes, and they have no white on their paws or chest. The photos above were taken by Peter Trimming at the British Wildlife Centre in Surrey, which has a group of wildcats in captivity. In Scotland, the wild ones are much harder to spot, as they keep themselves hidden and only come out at dusk to hunt.

The Highland Wildlife Park is just south of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. Staff there are working together with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland to build up a population of wildcats that can be released into the wild. This project is being supported by an EU LIFE grant of £3.2 million, with additional funding and support from a range of wildlife trusts. The Saving Wildcats project will work to breed a healthy community of wildcats from British and European stock over the next six years, with the aim to release some into the wild in 2022. These may be released in the Cairngorms to begin with, and then perhaps in other parts of Scotland in future.

Willow cover

After writing stories about Scottish puffins and red squirrels for the Picture Kelpies series published by Floris Books, my next book is Willow the Wildcat, which comes out on 20 February. Willow and her brother Corrie are full of energy and love to wrestle, but when their den is destroyed by a curious sheepdog, they have to work together to help their mum find a new home. This is no easy task, especially as they have to watch out for some scary creatures along the way.

corrie and fish

The illustrator Kirsteen Harris-Jones captures the playful kittens very well.

willow and corrie

Let’s hope Scottish wildcats will continue to live and thrive in the Highlands of Scotland for many more years to come.