Students give wildcats a helping hand

Pictured are students Sean Ramage, Gregor Mitchell, Danielle Stewart and Kirstie Straiton
Pictured are students Sean Ramage, Gregor Mitchell, Danielle Stewart and Kirstie Straiton

Students from Scotland’s Rural College have given their support to a national campaign to protect and save Scotland’s wildcats.

And the team has put its practical talents to good use in the Angus glens, one of the bastions of the wildcats’ habitat.

They joined staff from Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) – which consists of more than 20 Scottish environment agencies – to establish artificial dens at sites on Scotland’s national forest estate in Glenisla.

As well as helping to build six dens at key sites in the priority areas, the students also helped to set up cameras at each den site to monitor progress.

The work parties were led by partnership staff from Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Hebe Carus, Scottish Wildcat Action Officer in the Strathspey & Angus Glens priority areas organised the den building activity.

She said: “SWA is a national effort to save Scotland’s wildcats and to have SRUC on board is fantastic.

“If wildcats are going to have a fighting chance it really is going to require a concerted effort from everyone because we need to look at solutions that work at a landscape scale. That will require teamwork.

“On the day we explained why den building is important and just how vital good forest and habitat management - and habitat connectivity - are to the programme.”

SWA’s aim is to lay the groundwork to support long-term action to restore viable populations of Scottish wildcats north of the Highland boundary fault line. Its five-year programme includes reducing threats in the wild, conservation breeding, and carrying out extensive monitoring and research.

The dens that the SRUC students’ built will determine whether wildcats are prepared to use them as safe places. If they are acceptable to the wildcats, then artificial dens could be more widely used to encourage them into new areas and to raise young.

Victoria Pendry, lecturer in countryside management at SRUC’s Elmwood Campus, said: “Working with Forest Enterprise and Scottish Wildcat Action was an amazing experience for our countryside management students.

“Our main ethos is to get students involved in real projects to consolidate theory with practical habitat and species management. The students had a tremendous day understanding the importance of this project in the protection or our iconic wildcat.”