There is talk about the reintroduction of the beautiful wildcat, which was once native to England, to the Derwent valley at a particular place, appropriately called Cattiside. This is said to be the last-known Derbyshire location of native wildcats centuries ago. As I recall, the last wildcat in England was shot for sport by an upper-class toff in 1835. Nowadays, it is believed that the last Scottish wildcats are hybridised with feral and domestic cats and are therefore not purebred. As a consequence there are none left in the UK.
It is therefore exciting to think that scientists have been learning from German conservationists about the habitat and behavioural needs of wildcats with the objective of reintroducing them into southern England in the not too distant future.
There are strict rules governing the release of wildlife in order that projects are successful. The most important of which is that the factors which led to the species’ extermination must be removed before reintroduction takes place. With respect to the wildcat, the primary reason, as I understand it, for its extermination in the UK was that it was persecuted by people using the animal as a target for sport hunting. That problem has certainly gone away. The other issue would be to make sure that there is sufficient and suitable habitat for the wildcat to thrive in southern England.
Jim Dixon, writing in Nature Notebook in The Times newspaper writes eloquently:
“One of the great limestone outcrops in the Derwent Valley is known as Wild Cat Tor and further up the valley on the North Lees estate is a clough known as Cattiside….. What are the prospects of a new wildcat population being established here?” – ‘clough’ means: a steep valley or ravine.
I would hope that the prospects are good. It would be wonderful to be able to talk about the wildcat in England in the present tense. I suspect that if they are to be reintroduced into England then they will come from continental Europe where there are still some small viable populations.
Although there is a decline in wildlife in the UK there have been some successful introductions. For example, in a five-year project, common cranes were introduced to Somerset’s wetlands. There is now a population of 200.
P.S. The North African wildcat is the ancestor of today’s domestic cat. They are not dissimilar in appearance.