A wildcat group is concerned about the impact of tree felling on the
population of the animals in Clashindarroch Forest in Aberdeenshire.

Wildcat Haven, which has footage of a large cat in the forest, claims the
Forestry Commission is carrying out “extensive commercial exploitation”.

It also fears plans for two large wind farms will threaten the wildcats.

Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) said the management of forests created a
very good environment for wildcats.

FES is an agency of the Forestry Commission, which manages Scotland’s
national forest estate.

The agency said that if the wind farm proposals for the area went ahead,
they would be subject to a full environmental impact assessment, public
consultation and planning processes.

It also said the turbines themselves would cover a relatively small area
and the rest of the area within the boundary and near it would be restocked.

The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA)
project has named the area as one of its five priority sites for wildcat
conservation.

The independent group Wildcat Haven said it had identified at least 13
wildcats living there, including the large wildcat which has been nicknamed
the Beast.

The group is concerned that the clearing of trees and the installation of
the planned wind farms threaten considerable disturbance to the wildcats
which could lead females to abandon or even eat their kittens.

Wildcat Haven’s Kev Bell said he asked Forestry Commission Scotland to
cease its actions more than a year ago.

“We’re appalled by what’s going on,” he said. “The exact area where we’ve
filmed the Beast just weeks ago, is right now being clear-felled, right
when wildcats are breeding and raising kittens.

“This is the last viable population of Scottish wildcats left anywhere, and
Forestry Commission Scotland, whilst publicly claiming to be protecting
them, are actively chopping down their home around them. It’s a national
scandal; we’re at risk of losing our iconic wildcat to these thoughtless
actions.”

A Freedom of Information request from Wildcat Haven showed that in an email
from Forestry Commission district manager John Thompson to senior Forestry
Commission Scotland staff said that wildcat presence in Clashindarroch may
cause a “downstream surprise”.

The email said: “We have two very significantly-scaled wind farm proposals
in the pipeline for Clashindarroch… they are probably below the radar for
most at the moment.

“Significant clearfelling is likely… I will be surprised if the presence of
Scottish wildcat does not become a significant issue. I flag this simply to
ensure that we do not create any hostages to fortune regarding the scale of
our felling operations.”

Wildcat expert Steve Piper said: “Everyone knows how sensitive to
disturbance wildcats are, especially at this time of year bringing up
kittens. FCS, SNH, and their 20 partner organisations at Scottish Wildcat
Action love telling everyone about their priority conservation areas, but
these must be PR fluff if a key partner is actively clear-felling one.

“Almost £2m of public and lottery money went to those organisations to
protect the wildcat, and this is what we get; loo roll, wind farms, and
emails describing Scottish wildcats as ‘a significant issue’ which may make
everyone ‘hostages to fortune’.”

Steve Sleigh, a member of the Wildcat Haven team. added: “Clashindarroch
Forest must be protected from further commercial exploitation immediately
and without compromise, it’s too important.

“We’ve got plenty of other forests for wood pulp, plenty of other hills for
wind turbines; this place needs to be left alone, and we’re determined to
get Clashindarroch full legal protection from commercial exploitation.

“We need MSPs to bring this to parliament; Nicola Sturgeon needs to
understand the Scottish wildcat is about to go extinct on her watch.”

Wildcat Haven has launched a petition to the Scottish government asking for
the protection of Clashindarroch.

‘Comprehensive survey’

A spokesman for Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES), the agency responsible
for managing the National Forest Estate on behalf of the Scottish
government, said: “The management of commercial forests creates a very good
environment for wildcats with more edge habitats that they use to move
around, and clear fell and restock sites that are rich with voles and ideal
for foraging.

“Wildcats can be present in the forest and yet not be in the vicinity of
planned felling operations and the reason that commercial forestry can take
place in Clashindarroch is precisely because a comprehensive survey has
been done. This now includes satellite tagging cats to track their
movements and to better inform management decisions.”

The spokesman added that FES’s operations took into account wildlife
surveys of the immediate and wider surroundings and were scrutinised by
specialist FES environment teams and by experts within Scottish Wildcat Action.

“Any issues that raise concern are mitigated in accordance with their
advice and, where appropriate, opportunities are taken to improve wildcat
habitats,” he said. “This includes suspension of high-profile recreational
events.”

‘Scientific scrutiny’

Dr Roo Campbell, priorities area manager for Scottish Wildcat Action, said
one of its main aims was to save the Scottish wildcat from extinction and,
with its partners including FES, it was “fully committed to the project and
would not engage in any activity which might contradict that aim”.

Dr Campbell added: “FES managed commercial plantations retain some of the
best remaining populations of wildcats and we work very closely with FES to
firstly ensure the wildcats in our priority areas continue to be protected
and secondly identify how FES management approaches can be used to inform
wildcat conservation in other commercial forests.

“We have conducted intensive camera surveys across the forest over the past
three winters following an initial survey in 2013-2014. This information is
shared with FES as part of our work to conserve wildcats in the forest.

“We cannot comment on any evidence that Wildcat Haven may or may not hold
regarding wildcats, nor the methods they might use, as they do not share
such information with us and do not open up the details of their work to
proper public and scientific scrutiny.”


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