Wild­cats could re­turn to take on squir­rels

White­hall ad­viser of­fers to fund rein­tro­duc­tion of breed not seen in Eng­land for a cen­tury

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Christo­pher Hope CHIEF PO­LIT­I­CAL COR­RE­SPON­DENT o o , ng atic t rm­ing va­tion ra­tion,

WILD­CATS could be rein­tro­duced to Eng­land to help cull grey squir­rels after a mil­lion­aire White­hall ad­viser to Michael Gove of­fered to fund a scheme.

Ben Gold­smith, who has al­ready spent £200,000 on sup­port­ing the rein­tro­duc­tion of beavers to south­ern Eng­land, said he was will­ing to bankroll the rein­tro­duc­tion of wild­cats.

Govern­ment sources said Mr Gove, the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary who cham­pi­oned the rein­tro­duc­tion of beavers last year, is “open to the idea”.

Tens of thou­sands of wild­cats once roamed Bri­tain be­fore they were hunted and killed from the 1700s on­wards, due to fears they would tar­get lambs, rab­bits and poul­try.

The last English wild­cat pop­u­la­tion was wiped out on Ex­moor near the River Exe just over a cen­tury ago. Only a small pop­u­la­tion now sur­vives in the north of Scot­land.

Mr Gold­smith told The Sun­day Tele­graph: “We have a duty to put right mo­ral wrongs from the past. They are non-con­tro­ver­sial. They are pretty small and are not go­ing to harm farm­ing in­ter­ests. A healthy pop­u­la­tion lives at pretty low den­si­ties.”

Mr Gold­smith, a City fi­nancier and Tory donor who was ap­pointed to the board of Mr Gove’s Depart­ment for the En­vi­ron­ment, Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs last month, said he would fi­nan­cially sup­port en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists wanted to rein­tro­duce wild­cats.

Derek Gow, the UK’s lead­ing ex­pert on mam­mal re-in­tro­duc­tions, has al­ready drawn up a brief­ing for min­is­ters ahead of a meet­ing with na­ture con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions next month.

Mr Gold­smith con­tin­ued: “Some of the smaller mam­mal species and bird species that have been miss­ing could pretty eas­ily be brought back with­out im­pact­ing much on peo­ple’s way of life.”

Any rein­tro­duc­tion of wild­cats to Eng­land would be done in con­junc­tion who with farm­ers and lo­cal peo­ple, to try to en­sure there would be no im­pact on crops or live­stock.

Mr Gow said forestry or­gan­i­sa­tions were very keen on the idea, and that wild­cats were “ab­so­lutely not a species that presents any­one with a prob­lem. They are a small mam­mal spe­cial­ist hunter, hunt­ing rab­bits, field voles and grey squir­rels.

“Grey squir­rels ex­ist at very high den­sity quite com­monly. These cats would cer­tainly kill them.”

He added: “One of the rea­sons why grey squir­rels do such dam­age in for­est en­vi­ron­ments is that we have taken out the preda­tors.”

Min­is­ters told MPs last month that the Govern­ment is spend­ing nearly £100,000 of pub­lic money this year and last year on de­vel­op­ing “a con­tra­cep­tive for grey squir­rels” to try to keep num­bers down.

But Claire Robin­son, the Na­tional Farm­ers’ Union coun­try­side ad­viser, said: “Any species in­tro­duc­tion, par­tic­u­larly if it has not been in this coun­try for hun­dreds of years, can have a mas­sive im­pact on the many ben­e­fits that farm­ing and the coun­try­side de­liver.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.