Wildcats return to UK countryside for first time in 500 years

Up to 60 wildcats are due to be set free into rural Cornwall and Devon as part of a new conservation project. The animals have the potential to grow up to twice the size of a domestic cat, witt at least 40 earmarked for release.

It will mark the first time in over 200 years that the creatures will be given the freedom to hunt vermin and rabbits.

As a result of the threat they posed to rabbits, and their thick fur, wildcats were nearly hunted to extinction in the 16th century.

They are currently England’s rarest mammal – with only 200 of them living in remote areas of Northern Scotland.

The purpose of their reintroduction to the countryside is to improve the general ecology of the landscape, as put by the Devon Wildlife Trust.

Derek Grow, a conservationist working with the Trust, already has five mating pairs of the cats on his farm in Lifton, Devon.

The cats were given to the farmer to breed by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Mr Grow has run a successful captive breeding program over the last few years and is now working with the Devon Wildlife Trust to release dozens of cats into the wild.

They will abide in secretive, rural locations in Devon and Cornwall to begin with.

According to experts, the wildcats will pose no threat to humans or domestic pets as they will inhabit dense woodland and will take flight at the sight of a person.

Mr Gow, 57, said: “If we have the ability to save a nearly extinct species which once populated all of Britain until we hunted them to the brink why would we not reintroduce them?

“Along with beavers and pine martins they will play a key role in restoring our landscape to its natural state.

“This is just one small step in the right direction, returning wildcats to our forests will help rejuvenate them.”

He said that all animals have an essential effect on their ecosystems, and provided a “check on rampant mice and rabbits” whose populations have grown to uncontrollable numbers.

He added: “As a species we have killed wild animals to death and now is the time for us to start reversing that trend.”

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