OPINION ON NEWS FROM THE SCOTSMAN: We know that one downside of the necessary expansion of wind farms is that they kill birds. We are also painfully aware that domestic and feral cats kill birds. Now we have a wind farm in Scotland that, it is claimed, will kill birds and a very rare, highly endangered cat species: the Scottish wildcat (aka European wildcat).
The wind farm will achieve this, it is argued, because the installation of the wind turbines requires ‘clear felling’ of many trees in a forest. This means ‘clearcutting’ which in turn means clearing forest. Scottish wildcats like to live in forests or more specifically they need some sort of cover for hunting and rest sites.
A survey between 1983 and 1987 in Scotland found wildcats in forested areas with scrub, woodlands, bogs, open heather moorlands, and marginal habitats between high mountains and moorlands.
So it is not true that the Scottish wildcat is entirely dependent on forest cover to live. However, forest cover is an integral part of the cat’s lifestyle – ‘in general the cats appear to be associated with forests’ (P Stahl and M Artois – 1991 – Status and conservation of the wild cat (felis silvestris) and domestic cats in Scotland).
The argument by the campaign group Wildcat Haven is that the wind farm, which is to be built and managed by the Swedish energy company Vattenfall, will fracture the only viable population of these endangered cats. It is believed that the area concerned, the Clashindarroch Forest in Aberdeenshire is home to 13 wildcats.
It is thought that the world population is around 35. You have to say that with a population that small the continued existence of this species of wildcat in Scotland is precarious to say the least even with perfect conservation as it is likely that there will be inbreeding which can result in sterile cats. Also the biggest threat for many years has been cross-breeding with feral cats which has diluted to purity of the wildcat creating hybrids. Are the remaining wildcats purebred?
Around 200,000 people have signed a petition opposing the wind farm and demanding that the Scottish government protect the forest which is publicly owned apparently.