Conservationists have started building new breeding facilities in Kent as part of a nationwide effort to help save the endangered species from extinction in the UK.
Leading British wildlife conservation charity Wildwood Trust, in collaboration with Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Vincent Wildlife Trust, has begun work on 10 new breeding enclosures at its parks in Kent and Devon, to help secure the future of Britain’s rarest mammal, the wildcat.
Rangers at Wildwood Trust, Herne Bay, are currently hard at work clearing the ground for the new breeding centre in Kent as part of a ground-breaking new project to establish the first wild population of the wildcat outside of Scotland in over 200 years.
The new enclosures will be built set back from the main park to ensure the welfare of the animals and their young, and to offer the project and reintroductions the best chance possible of success. Each one will house a breeding pair of cats, whose kittens will later be released into the wild.
Sally Holt is the Senior Wildcat Keeper at Wildwood Trust:
“This is a key step for everyone involved in the project. The breeding of this secretive species can be challenging. Off-show breeding enclosures will create a quieter environment and will help kittens develop key survival behaviour.
“Wildcats have very particular den box preferences, so we have worked hard with researchers to find the right design for the new enclosures. It will be so exciting to see all this work come to fruition.”
The builds in Kent have been made possible thanks to supporters of Wildwood Trust and a generous donation from the Veolia Environmental Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund. But for work to start on the Escot enclosures, the fundraising drive continues.
Laura Gardner, Director of Conservation at Wildwood Trust, explains:
“We’re so grateful to our supporters and Veolia Environmental Trust for helping us return this iconic species back to its rightful home. We still have a long way to go with funding but this is a real milestone on the way to creating a viable and self-sustaining wildcat population outside of Scotland.
“As a charity which has successfully bred wildcats at our parks, we see first-hand how much people enjoy visiting them, so helping create a world where they will live side-by-side with us again will be incredible to witness.”
The European wildcat is Britain’s rarest mammal and the only native cat species surviving in Britain. The species was hunted and persecuted to extinction in England and Wales a century ago, resulting in its disappearance. The remaining wild population living exclusively in the remote Scottish Highlands, is thought to be fewer than 300 individuals, but that population has been declared “functionally extinct” which means that there is no longer a viable population left in the wild.
A healthy population of reintroduced wildcats will help to restore the balance in the ecosystem by controlling numbers of prey animals, such as rabbits and rodents, and of predators such as foxes through competition for food. This in turn has a ripple effect across ecosystems, by which habitats for many more plant and wildlife species can be restored.
To read more about the project and support the appeal, please visit Wildwood’s wildcat appeal page