This looks like a harebrained scheme to me although I’d love it to work. A millionaire, Ben Goldsmith, is prepared to bankroll the reintroduction of wildcats into England. The objective is to rectify a wrong by which he means the wrong in extirpating the wildcat from England in the 19th century through hunting. Britain was ahead of the game in the killing for wildlife at that time.
A proposed spin-off from the reintroduction is that the backer hopes that the animal will prey on grey squirrels. A lot of people don’t like grey squirrels but they love the red variety. They want the greys killed which I think is unfair but that’s a different subject.
The last English wildcat population was wiped out on Exmoor near the river Exe over a century ago we are told by the Times journalist, Lucy Bannerman. I think actually it happened before that (the last one was shot in 1835) but there’s no need to argue about it. We can agree that the animal was made extinct in England a long time ago. Wildcats survive in a corner of Scotland, it is said, but others claim that there are no true blood (purebred) wildcats in the wild in the UK because of crossbreeding with domestic and feral cats.
Mr Goldsmith is an adviser to Michael Gove, the environment secretary, who is apparently open to the idea. Michael Gove likes to make bold environmental decisions and therefore the idea to reintroduce wildcats into England is not fanciful.
Mr Goldsmith says,
“We have a duty to put right moral wrongs from the past… They are non-controversial. There are pretty small and are not going to harm farming interests.”
An expert on mammal reintroductions, Derek Gow, has drawn up a briefing for government ministers in advance of a meeting with nature conservation organisations in May 2018. Forestry organisations are very keen on the idea. They see the grey squirrel as a pest because they damage trees and because they have taken out predators. The farmers’ union is against it as they are against any re-introductions of any species because they fear for their livestock.
The problem I have with the idea is that I think it will be impossible to prevent the mating of wildcats with domestic and feral cats resulting in hybrids. You will be left with hybrids in England and what’s the point of that? Hybrids have the appearance of domestic tabby cats. And I doubt whether their character is suited to hunting squirrels. And of course some people in England still like to shoot at cats for their entertainment. Then the farmers will like to shoot them too because they’ll claim that they are harassing livestock which would give them the right to shoot a reintroduced wildcat. I don’t see it working myself and the main reason would be hybridization undermining the whole process.