Alison Espie, The Game and Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm’s research assistant, explains how to track down Scotland’s elusive Wildcats.
GWSDF Auchnerran is a well-wooded farm bordering onto heather hill and with a high population of rabbits, so potentially an ideal habitat for the Scottish Wildcat, once common in the Highlands, and mentioned in many Scottish folk tales, but now seriously under threat. We thought we’d like to see if we have any of these elusive creatures, so have been experimenting with wildlife cameras during the cold dark winter months.
Our first attempts, using tinned tuna and cat-food as bait, were very smelly but attracted only rats and mice, then driving to work one morning I passed a freshly-killed cock pheasant in the middle of the road. The wheels in my head whirred around and 100 metres later I did a u-turn, came back and picked it up. I cut the bird up and tied pieces onto trees at three of the camera points we have, with immediate results!
Within days we’d had a cat (almost certainly feral), pine martens, buzzards and stoats. Interestingly, many of the traps have caught roe deer, sometimes more than one, coming up and having a good sniff. I wonder what it is that they find so fascinating?
I’ve now replaced all the cat-food baits with pieces of pheasant and here’s a selection of the resulting pictures:
…and could this possibly be what we’re really looking for?
Since then, I’ve come across this really useful video clip from Scottish Wildcat Action:
Having improved the technique following the above guidelines, we plan to move the cameras to the Howe of Cromar within the next week or so, so if you come across a piece of pheasant or other bird tied to a tree, you’ll know there’s a camera hidden nearby. If we do come across any potential wildcats, or other unusual pictures you can be sure that we’ll post them here.
I’ve now become an expert collector of road-kill, so if you’re in the Tarland/Dinnet area and see a dotty woman stopping to pick something up off the road, that’ll be me!
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