GWCT National Gamebag Census & Tracking Mammals Partnership

Feral cat Felis catus

Taxonomy: Class: Mammalia; Order: Carnivora; Family: Felidae

Description

Feral cat photo
Feral cat © Nicholas Aebischer

A feral cat is a domestic cat living, at least partly, independently of humans. Feral cats are found in a wide range of habitats, from urban to woodland, farmland and upland. They eat mainly rodents and lagomorphs, but depending on location their predation on other species may pose a threat to poultry, game and other native wildlife (Woods et al. 2003). Feral cats also endanger the native wildcat through hybridisation and the spread of disease (Macdonald et al. 2004). Feral cats may be culled throughout the year, but they must be destroyed humanely because the provisions of the UK animal welfare legislation apply equally to feral cats and those kept as pets (Natural England 2010).

Further information:
Cat Chat website .

Conservation status and legislation

Status:
UK: Feral
World: Unclassified (IUCN Red List)

Legislation:
 
Logo NBN Gateway © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved NERC 100017897 2004
Source: National Biodiversity Network and its data providers, who bear
no responsibility for interpretation of the 10x10-km grid map
 

Distribution and abundance

Feral cats are most conspicuous in areas of urban development, but also occur widely in the countryside. They have been introduced to many offshore islands to control rats and rabbits. The scarcity of mapped records outside urban areas probably reflects the difficulty in separating feral from dependent domestic cats.

Estimates of feral cat abundance (numbers of individuals in the spring) across the UK, from Harris et al. (1995):

United Kingdom 813,000
England 625,000
Scotland 130,000
Wales 58,000
N Ireland no estimate

Recent trends from the National Gamebag Census

United Kingdom

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Feral cat trend United Kingdom

There has been a steady and significant decrease in the bag index between 1961 and 2009. It is possible that increasing fox numbers have had an effect through competition or direct predation.

Change in feral cat bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
United Kingdom 783 1961 2009 -39*
-55 to -14
-20*
-33 to -3
-15
-28 to 2

* significant at P < 0.05

England

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Feral cat trend England

There has been a steady and significant decrease in the bag index between 1961 and 2009, amounting to a fall of approximately half. It is possible that increasing fox numbers have had an effect through competition or direct predation.

Change in feral cat bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
England 544 1961 2009 -45*
-59 to -20
-29*
-42 to -13
-15
-28 to 5

* significant at P < 0.05

Scotland

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Feral cat trend Scotland

There has been no detectable change in the bag index between 1961 and 2009.

Change in feral cat bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Scotland 201 1961 2009 -29
-62 to 114
3
-26 to 37
-12
-36 to 17

* significant at P < 0.05

Wales

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Feral cat trend Wales

Although there has been an apparent decline in the bag index between 1961 and 2009, it is not statistically significant.

Change in feral cat bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Wales 24 1961 2009 -64
-79 to 79
-51
-69 to 82
7
-58 to 271

* significant at P < 0.05

N Ireland

There are too few bag records of feral cat to produce an index graph. Feral cat trend N Ireland

 

There are too few bag records of feral cat to evaluate rates of change over time

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
N Ireland Too few sites

Environmental zones

Change in feral cat bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Environmental zone Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Easterly lowlands (England/Wales) 345 1961 2009 -58*
-72 to -39
-45*
-63 to -23
-29
-53 to 2
Westerly lowlands (England/Wales) 134 1961 2009 -28
-67 to 36
-14
-46 to 27
30
-14 to 77
Uplands (England/Wales) 87 1961 2009 -41
-74 to 94
-1
-25 to 40
-4
-23 to 24
Lowlands (Scotland) 61 1961 2009 -21
-61 to 48
0
-49 to 54
-8
-53 to 52
Intermediate uplands/islands (Scotland) 30 1961 2009 -61
-86 to 125
-33
-81 to 64
14
-60 to 117
True uplands (Scotland) 112 1961 2009 -35
-73 to 62
16
-32 to 65
-2
-36 to 64

* significant at P < 0.05

Comparison with BBS mammal data

No comparison with the NGC trend is possible because too few feral cat records are received through the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) organised by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Long-term trend from the National Gamebag Census

There are too few bag records of feral cat to produce a trend starting before 1961.

References and further reading

  • Battersby,J. (2005). UK Mammals: Species Status and Population Trends. Joint Nature Conservation Committee/Tracking Mammals Partnership, Peterborough (JNCC download page).
  • Harris,S., Morris,P., Wray,S. & Yalden,D.W. (1995). A Review of British Mammals: Population Estimates and Conservation Status of British Mammals Other than Cetaceans. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough (JNCC download page).
  • Harris,S. & Yalden,D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition. Mammal Society, Southampton.
  • Macdonald,D.W., Daniels,M.J., Driscoll,C., Kitchener,A. & Yamaguchi,N. (2004). The Scottish Wildcat: Analyses for Conservation and an Action Plan. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford.
  • Natural England (2010). The Animal Welfare Act 2006: what it means for wildlife. Natural England Technical Information Note TIN072. Natural England, Peterborough (NE download page)..
  • Woods,M., McDonald,R.A. & Harris,S. (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal Review 33: 174-188.

This report should be cited as: Aebischer,N.J., Davey,P.D. & Kingdon,N.G. (2011). National Gamebag Census: Mammal Trends to 2009. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge (http://www.gwct.org.uk/ngcmammals).

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