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Wildcats In England: A Possible Return

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Vanessa Clark investigates the impact and possibilities of one of England's new rewilding projects

A stiped cat with paws

Photo by Jasper Garratt

What is a wildcat?

A common response when considering the wildcat is what kind of cat it is. According to The Wildlife Trust, the wildcat, or ‘tiger of the Highlands’, is like a domestic tabby cat and is largely nocturnal and characteristically shy. These wild cats are one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the UK, as the only wild member of the cat family in the UK.

Since the end of 2022, wildcats are making headlines with various rewilding schemes discussing their reintroduction to the country and how feasible those endeavours might be. Wildcats enjoy edges of moors and peaks of hills, far away from populations.

The Mammal Society explains that wildcats carry out most of their lives at dawn and dusk, preferring solitude with only one cat per 3km² in optimal areas and one per 10km² in less favourable areas.

"The wildcat has left an indelible pawprint on Scotland, where its untameable, fearless spirit and love of solitude have given it a mythical reputation in folklore and history" - Rewilding Britain

Hopes for Devon to become first wildcat home

The Devon Wildlife Trust has initiated a project to determine whether this shy cat could be reintegrated in the South West, once hunted to extinction for its fur and to protect rabbits and chickens. Since hunting laws are not a current threat, the main threat is hybridisation with the domestic cat.

In February this year, TimeOut announced the repopulation of wildcats and similar projects for bison in Kent, with plans for rewilding in London. The narrative is transforming into how we can improve relationships with our environments.

Rewilding Coomestead, a Devon based former farm, is thinking about nature as experience, inviting guests to holiday on the land previously used to farm livestock, which is now in a process of letting nature reclaim its habitat.

Rather than being a human-led environment, the former farm is interested in understanding the process of nature, flood management and courses in rewilding for beginners and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). search function

Rewilding in cities

Rewilding projects are diversifying themselves and efforts to repopulate nature in built-up cities offer hope to those whose lives are bound to concreted, urban areas. Repopulation projects hope to reverse the fragility of species and cultivate biodiversity across the UK.

UK-based charity Rewilding Britain aims to holistically help nature recover and flourish itself, providing a 12-step program for anyone interested in taking part. The first step in the program is a ‘do nothing’ approach, observing and allowing nature to unfurl.

Did you know? You can tell a wildcat apart from a domestic by its cylindrical, bushy tail with a blunt black tip - The Mammal Society

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Realistic hopes for rewilding

We live in an ecosystem with interdependent components; cities have long relied on green spaces to improve the health of the population and counter climate change. Rather than blocking off the eaves of roofs, they can serve as homes for starlings and owls.

If wildcats find a home again in wider England, it will likely turn more of our attention to matters of the environment, both rural and urban. Rewilding is an opportunity to look outside of ourselves more, to pay attention to and act upon the needs of our fragile yet majestic world.

Researched by Adrian Windeler / Edited by Mia-Helena Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington


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