Save the Scottish Wildcat

Protect the Clashindarroch Forest! Sign the petition NOW!


I have supported the Scottish Wildcat Association charity and Wildcat Haven for many years. They have given us hope that the Scottish Wildcat can be saved  as a wild animal.

Then, almost 18 months ago, I announced the launch of a rival organisation that claimed to have the best interests of the Scottish Wildcat at heart. It was launched with huge funding and great razzmatazz. The main problem was that it was hard to see how an organisation that included such disparate interests as driven grouse shooting, the display for profit of wild animals and the felling of the very forests that the wildcat requires for its home and larder could serve the interests of the wildcat. Yes, they talk the talk, but could they walk the walk? Were they going to help the wildcat? Or did they plan to exterminate it in the wild and restrict it to a zoo animal.

The gamekeepers and the zoos have now been exposed as the nasty organisations that we always imagined them to be. Now it is Forestry Commission Scotland and its forest destroying agenda that is in the frame. Friend or foe of the Scottish Wildcat? The jury is out, but it does not look good for them.

It started with the discovery of an unexpected population of Scottish Wildcats in the massive forest of Clashindarroch.


Wildcat Haven has identified at least 13 wildcats living there, including the large wildcat which has been nicknamed the Beast. In the last few weeks, Wildcat Haven has highlighted the threat to this population of wildcats from the Felling Operations of Forest Enterprise Scotland who manage the forest for Forestry Commission Scotland – a partner in the Scottish Wildcat Action.

The Clashindarroch Forest was planted only recently, with the first trees being put in the ground before WWII. It covers a range of heights and soil types. Not all of the forest is suitable for tree cover. It is a mosaic including large areas of open ground, often rich in food for Wildcats, such as voles. This is normal for most forests and although there are large plantations within the forest which offer cover, there are also large areas of open ground which support large populations of prey species.

The only threat to the wildcat is the disturbance caused by large scale forestry operations. This disturbance is precisely what Scottish Wildcat Action is recommending.  But then including Forestry Commission Scotland in a wildcat organisation is a bit like including an SS Panzer Division in the Allied line of battle. Unlike Scottish Wildcat Action, Wildcat Haven serves no commercial masters worried about profits. Wildcat Haven Is fighting to save this last small population of Aberdeenshire wildcats.

The wildcats have survived since the last ice age in this area despite or perhaps because of the planting. However is is improbable that they will be able to co-exist with large scale mechanised timber harvesting.

Logging is taking place NOW, in the middle of kitten season, disturbing wildcat mothers, which could make them abandon or even eat their young.

The logging will tear the wildcat population apart, and threaten many other rare animals that live in the forest alongside them.

Finally, here’s the letter written by two Wildcat experts to Nicola Sturgeon, The First Minister of Scotland:

Dear Mrs Sturgeon,

We are writing to you as originators of the petition to protect Clashindarroch Forest in Aberdeenshire, which has over 205,000 signatures so far (www.change.org/SaveTheWildcats).

At least 13 high-purity Scottish wildcats live in Clashindarroch, the largest single population recorded anywhere; possibly a third of the national population and certainly critical to it.

As a commercial forest it is subject to rotational felling by Forest Enterprise Scotland, which raises a significant risk of disturbing wildcats and destroying their dens. Two “significant” wind farms are also in planning between FES, Vattenfall and Fred Olsen Renewables.

We are sure that your advisors at Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland have told you that everything is as it should be in Clashindarroch, but we can demonstrate that it isn’t. The current situation is likely to place you as the First Minister in charge when the wildcat went extinct.

As required, FES do appear to be carrying out pre-felling surveys to check for wildcat presence. However, it has been proven that those surveys have failed to identify wildcat territories which were subsequently felled; “reckless” disturbance and destruction in law.

In one case FES were shown evidence of a wildcat on a site already being clear-felled. They briefly ceased operations accepting the cat was present, then continued clear-felling anyway. This virtually guaranteed the destruction of dens and resting places, as well as the disturbance and displacement of that cat; “deliberate” disturbance and destruction in law.

An FES species ecologist commented that “cats can move”, even though the law expressly forbids this happening. He is also the only ecologist we are aware of with the opinion that forcing the movement of highly territorial, legally protected, and critically endangered animals is no big deal.

Further justification for felling has been offered by Scottish Wildcat Action who claim they have peer-reviewed evidence that wildcats benefit from 90 hectares of their territory being clear-felled. This evidence relies on a dataset of domestic tabby cats and eye witness sightings reaching back to the 1800s; random members of the public thinking they might have seen a wildcat somewhere.

They also cite a study of German wildcats living in a hurricane deforested landscape, and two studies of Spanish wildcats living in unforested scrub landscapes. That these cats did not use forest very often (of course they had none to use), is provided as evidence that Scottish wildcats benefit from industrial clear-felling creating a “mosaic” of deforested areas within a forest.

These are gross misrepresentations of science. There is absolutely no evidence that Scottish wildcats benefit in any way from clear-felling, and a considerable body of evidence and legal protections making clear that it is extremely detrimental to their survival.

Then the two wind farms. Deatils are unknown of the Fred Olsen plan but FES themselves call it “significant”, and requiring “significant clear-felling”.

Plans are available for a Vattenfall project to extend the wind farm on the edge of Clashindarroch. It will cut the forest and wildcat population in two and clear fell up to a quarter of it. FES were keen to keep this “under the radar” according to their internal emails, expecting wildcats would be an issue; which we find outstandingly poor behaviour for a public agency, managing a public forest, talking about a legally protected and critically endangered species.

Vattenfall 2 will immediately make numerous wildcats homeless and cause the collapse of the Clashindarroch population. Whatever the size, Fred Olsen’s Longbank project will ensure the collapse is a rapid process.

The loss of this population will mean extinction; there is no evidence to show that there are more than 35 wildcats left. SNH have dropped their own population estimates from 400 to 100 over the same period that they have spent £2m of public and Lottery money allegedly saving the wildcat.

We, and over 205,000 other people, believe the case is clear; the wildcat is not safe so long as Clashindarroch can be commercially exploited. Scotland has many windy hills and many commercial forests, but this is the only one with a resident population of wildcats.

We understand there’s a great deal of process and investigation that has to take place to fully inform MSPs of the situation in Clashindarroch, as well as a Parliamentary close imminent, but Scotland’s rarest animal is at risk right now, purely because failing FES surveys tick a box in a forestry stewardship form.

We feel the only sensible choice is to put a moratorium on all forest exploitation in Clashindarroch Forest until Parliament is next in session and able to deliver a fully informed decision on whether it can be protected.

Please, meet with us and let us show you the evidence for what is at stake, and how the wildcat population is being brushed aside by both Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage in their action planning, procedures, PR activities and internal communications.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Paul O’Donoghue and Steve Piper
On behalf of Wildcat Haven

Save the Scottish wildcat by protecting Clashindarroch Forest! Sign the petition NOW!

Jarndyce vs Jarndyce – an update

Since my last post on the subject of my peremptory summons to help Mr Wightman with his legal troubles, I have received a copy of the court’s transcript of the event which I now share with everyone.

Wightman Wildcat Haven hearing transcript 2018_03_30_10_31_27

I have to admit that I had rather forgotten about the whole defamation thing. Highland Titles is in a particularly good place just now – 2017 was our tenth year of growth with our highest turnover and profit ever. This provides us with an income that we can use to do much much more than we ever imagined when we hung out our shingle in 2006. The lucky 100 who are booked to attend the 2018 gathering will hear about our plans first. Those on our mailing list will hear next. It does keep me busy, but that is certainly a very good thing.

But Mr Wightman was brought to my attention again last week when I received an email from a friend alerting me to a tweet (below). It appears that Mr Wightman will be dusting off his begging bowl again.

What a difference a year makes! Eleven months ago the news of his crowdfunder appeal for a modest £10,000 electrified Twitter.  318 hearts and  592 retweets.  Wow. This year the request for an additional extraordinary £120,000 created a massive social media yawn.  One heart and a comment from Cathy. Hopefully she will be donating the full £120,000 because nobody else appears to be interested.

One possibility is that people realise that trying to defend the indefensible is an expensive and futile ambition.  Surely it would be better to apologise and try to set the matter straight?

To spend so much money on lawyers which could be better spent on a million diverse good causes is arguably the behaviour of a man who knows with unwavering confidence even beyond conceit that he’s benefitting everyone around him.  He must be saved at all costs no matter what damage he may have caused to the little people. He cannot be seen to have erred.

His statement on his website that the court date “may well be a year or more away”, taken in context with his previous delaying tactics, suggest that his strategy might be to try and make the other side (a small wildlife non-profit) run out of money as their legal fees steadily increase.  He states “The estimated duration of the hearing is 8 days”.  Quite frankly this is ridiculous. The case is a simple open and shut case which I am advised could be concluded in two or three days.  His desire for an 8 day hearing would result in increased costs and massive delay.

If he had wanted to get his day in court, I cannot but wonder why he turned down the offer(s) of free legal help that he received.  Rather than represent himself, accept free help or turn to any number of well-intentioned “legal” friends who would surely have been pleased to represent him for a modest fee, Mr Wightman, possibly sensing the truly impossible job of making black look white, turned to one of the more expensive advocates at the Edinburgh bar, Roderick W. Dunlop Q.C.

https://twitter.com/AJacksonScot/status/863725455492476930

As I have made very clear under oath to the court (see transcript above), my only connection to Wildcat Haven (and Wildcat Haven Enterprises), is that a company that I represent as a director, Highland Titles Limited, has been funding it since WH was formed in 2015.  Before that we funded the  Scottish Wildcat Association.  Highland Titles have poured well over £100,000 into wildcat conservation and I do not begrudge a penny of it.  We plan to donate considerably more as do other organisations.

But nobody gives away money without making checks that hard earned cash will not be misused. We met with the principals of both organisations before funding them and undertook due diligence. We are well aware therefore that Mr Wightman has got many of his facts wrong as indeed he has done for Highland Titles.  The court will eventually determine whether these factual inaccuracies amount to defamation and if so what damages are due to Wildcat Haven Enterprises.

This leads me to observe that Mr Wightman, in his latest blog update on his website, has been just a teensy bit mendacious – it is called lying by omission – in his description of the case against him – perhaps unintentionally done. He states:

Wildcat Haven Enterprises CIC claims that statements that I made in the two blogs are defamatory. I do not accept that they are. 

Yet my personal opinion is that his tweets have been far more defamatory than his blogs and he fails to mention that they are also part of the case against him. Mr Wightman has elsewhere drawn attention to his difficulty in responding to the six pages of his tweets (as well he might).

I note that AW has deleted his blogs. He does not appear to have deleted his tweets. Time will tell whether that was a schoolboy error. Hopefully not a very, very, very long time.

 

Scottish Wildcat Action

Emily and Paul O'Donoghue
Emily and Paul O’Donoghue

Last May I blogged about the creation of Wildcat Haven Enterprises by my son-in-law and business “Dragon”, Douglas Wilson and experienced wildlife biologist Emily O’Donoghue, who is the wife of Paul O’Donoghue. Together they have worked on a range of projects from reintroducing the great bustard to the Salisbury Plain to capturing and DNA testing black rhinos in South Africa. Emily is also director of the Lynx UK Trust, which comprises a group of experienced conservationists and scientists with specialisations in wild felines, genetics, field research, re-introductions and education that have worked on projects worldwide. The Lynx UK Trust is supported by the law firm of Clifford Chance, one of the world’s pre-eminent law firms with significant depth and range of resources across five continents. Clifford Chance prides itself on an outstanding pro bono and community outreach programme that enables everyone in the firm to engage enthusiastically and which delivers effective assistance to chosen charitable and not-for-profit partners. I am excited by the prospect of the reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) which was most likely hunted to extinction in the UK for its fur between 500-700AD.

Wildcat Haven has been working in Ardnamurchan since 2008, with spectacular results which have resulted in the first ever “safe space” for wildcats. Wildcats need a huge territory to survive, which may be as large as 40 square miles. The haven in Ardnamurchan, Morvern, Moidart and Sunart which has been carved out by Wildcat Haven over many years could support as many as 20-30 wildcats. But they need more space if they are to become a thriving population.  This winter, Wildcat Haven have begun work at the other end of the highlands, in Caithness, where a massive 1,500 square mile haven is planned. Once that is complete, Wildcat Haven intends to join the two areas up to create one massive haven, north and west of the Great Glen, the huge rift valley and lake system that divides the highlands from the rest of Scotland. This refuge will then need to be maintained and the need for this perpetual funding was the reason for creating Wildcat Haven Enterprises with its business model of selling souvenir plots.

Into this exciting mix, landed Scottish Wildcat Action, at huge expense and with lots of glossy brochures and administrators. So far, they have simply muddied the waters and have no results to speak of. Worse, there are those that see a hidden agenda in this project, that brings together Edinburgh Zoo, which wants to breed wildcat kits to bring in the paying public, with the hunting interests of Scottish Land and Estates. Could it be that the gamekeepers want to catch any remaining wildcats and put them into a zoo based breeding programme? It certainly looks that way to some people and if true, this would lead to the final extinction of the Scottish wildcat as a wild animal – because these cats can never be successfully reintroduced. This would shore up the flagging finances of the zoo, allow the gamekeepers to kill any feral cats with impunity but at the cost of our last wild feline predator.

The whole thing smell very fishy to me and I will continue to put my support behind the fantastic work that is being done by Wildcat Haven and hope for the ultimate demise of this Johnny-come-lately pretense at real conservation that the Scottish Government has backed with taxpayer’s money.

 

 

Eurasian lynx creeps closer to UK release

ScreenHunter_127 Jun. 22 08.28The re-introduction of the lynx to Britain creeps slowly closer.  This nice piece in the Geogrphical quotes Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Lynx conservation Trust and good friend, announces that there are two sites  shortlisted for a pilot release of ten individuals in Aberdeenshire and Northumberland. The actual site to be used may be revealed as soon as July. ‘That’s when it gets really exciting,’ he says . ‘We will get to talk with the people who would actually be living alongside these amazing animals.’

More memorable is the quote from the Scottish Crofting Federation chair, Fiona Mandeville, who says ‘the most threatened species in the Highlands is the hill sheep and any threat to their viability must be resisted.’  I have rarely heard a statement less true.  The removal of the feather-bedded hill sheep from our uplands is long overdue.

Wildcat Haven

Douglas and I first encountered the plight of the Scottish Wildcat by stumbling across Steve Piper’s website, www.scottishwildcats.co.uk and his film, Last of the Scottish Wildcats (Buy the DVD at http://CoffeeFilms.com/ScottishWildcats.)

The plight of the Scottish Wildcat – doomed to imminent extinction by hybridisation – was one we could not ignore.

So together with Stephen Rossiter, Highland Titles Sales Director, I met Steve Piper in Fort William during one of his forays into the north as he began work on what would become the Wildcat Haven project. I am not sure what I expected, but Steve’s operation had looked frankly lightweight. No offices. No staff. Clearly no SNH style expense account (Steve was staying in the cheapest digs in Fort William). We were not sure what to make of Steve. Until we met him. Then it was very clear that he was running fast and lean without government grants and he was getting it done. He knew what he was hoping to achieve, had a team who were doing it, but was short of funds. We agreed to send him some cash and have never regretted getting involved with saving the Scottish wildcat.

In June 2013 Steve contacted us to say that he was taking a back seat and the Scottish Wildcat Association was going to become the Wildcat Trust and that Dr Paul O’Donoghue would be running the show. In the end Paul set up Wildcat Haven as a community interest company rather than a trust, and perhaps because he still had a full time job as a university lecturer at the University of Chester, his wife, Emily took the lead in administering the Company. Paul came to our 2014 gathering in Glencoe House, Glencoe and electrified the audience. We increased our level of funding and became even more keen to see them succeed.

Fast forward to May 2015 and the Highland Titles Gathering at the Isles of Glencoe Hotel, Glencoe. After Paul’s talk, we retired to the bar and Paul explained that he hoped to extend the feral-free area of Wildcat Haven far beyond the area they had been working on – the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula, including Moidart, Morvern and Sunart. Paul had an ambition to create a huge feral-free zone of thousands of square miles, everything north west of the great glen, the ancient water filled rift valley that separates the Highlands from the rest of Scotland.  This was an exciting vision and one which would guarantee space for an expanding Scottish wildcat population.

Dr Paul O'Donoghue at the 2016 Gathering
Dr Paul O’Donoghue at the 2016 Gathering

There and then I offered to back Paul’s vision. It was clear that this would require far more funding that Highland Titles could offer. We have our own program of rewilding all planned out and did not want to abort it. But if we could set Wildcat Haven up to sell souvenir plots of land – the model that had worked so well for us – then the vision had a fighting chance. Teach a man to fish…. So Paul and Emily stayed on for a few days whilst we discussed how to do it, culminating in a meeting with our Scottish solicitors, J. & H. Mitchell W.S.in Pitlochry.  From the start we felt that the commercial arm should be a new Company so as not to distract from the business of clearing land of feral cats that Wildcat Haven had been so successful in doing. Wildcat Haven Enterprises was going to be a business which would fund the expansion of that work and to add experience my son in law, Douglas agreed to step down from the board of Highland Titles to take on a new role as a director of Wildcat Haven Enterprises along with Paul’s wife Emily who has many years experience with conservation, including the high profile Lynx Trust.  Douglas was a sad loss to Highland Titles. Not only had he grown our business since joining, but he has considerable business knowledge, having a business degree as well as time spent as a police officer. Douglas is a man to get the job done.

After a few months of frantic work, we had everything in place. Highland Titles had bought a wood overlooking Loch Loyne in 2014 and had created an 3 Ha deer-proof Haven, which we had called Bumblebee Haven. With advice from the Bumblebee Trust we had asked our friends at nearby Dundreggan, Trees for Life, to plant the tree species that had been recommended as good for bees and which would thrive on the peaty soils.  A small part of the reserve (called Mountainview) was already being sold as souvenir plots, but we hoped to establish other niche environments (Havens) to benefit a range of species. Why not wildcats?  This was, after all, prime wildcat territory.

With the land gifted to Wildcat Haven Enterprises, they needed a website, which was designed and built in record time by the team at Hotscot in Fort William who by now are used to our frantic and unreasonable requests. Other suppliers were sent designs and shipped folders, booklets, badges etc. All the materials need to create gift packs. Mike Tomkies, the great man of wildcats, was approached to check that he supported the choice of name for the new Haven at Mountainview, Wildernesse Wood (Wildernesse was the name he used in his books to hide the true location of his home on Loch Sheil – Gaskan).

Click the logo to visit Wildcat Haven
Click the logo to visit Wildcat Haven

At last, the great day came. At the end of September Wildcat Haven Enterprises launched its vision to the world and they began to take orders. They had a useful amount of coverage in the media, plus a few people who were less than enthusiastic about what had been achieved.  But we are just pleased that when the Scottish Wildcat needed help the most, Highland Titles was there willing and able to step up to the plate to help create a renewable source of income for Wildcat Haven.

So, if you want to help the Scottish Wildcat I can recommend buying a plot of land in Wildernesse Wood from Wildcat Haven Enterprises.