Wildcats have been spotted at two historic sites in Aberdeenshire in recent months.
Footage of a ‘good hybrid’ exploring the ancient woodlands at Drum Castle has been captured by the National Trust of Scotland, which manages the property at Drumoak near Banchory.
And at farm at Leith Hall, near Kennethmont, a cat was captured on film during October and November last year.
It has since been confirmed by Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) that the same cat was spotted several years ago in the Huntly area.
Roo Campbell, project manager at SWA, said: “I detected this cat on camera when I was doing an earlier project putting GPS collars on cats in 2013 and 2014.
“She was using Leith Hall and a local farm and was a regular visitor to the trail cameras I had placed there. I managed to get a collar on her and was able to look closely at how she used the area.
“I always hoped to see her again when we began the Scottish Wildcat Action project in the same area. Then we were sent some recent trail camera images from the farm and I realised it was the same cat.
“This caused me to double check some of the other images collected by Emma Rawling, our project officer in the area over the winter and true enough, it was the very same cat.”
This cat was tested then and was found to have a strong genetic score of 75% . While she has some domestic cat ancestry like most remaining wildcats, she has a relatively high proportion of wildcat ancestry.
Senior nature conservation advisor for the National Trust for Scotland, Richard Luxmoore, said:
“It’s great to be able to demonstrate that we have wildcats living on our properties in Aberdeenshire. We tend to associate this elusive beast with the wilder parts of the Highlands but some of our best evidence comes from the more populated agricultural land in the north-east. Some of our most important wildlife sites turn up where we least expect them.”
The National Trust for Scotland is currently monitoring dozens of sites across the north of Scotland for signs of wildcat activity.
The charity is also one of 20 organisations involved in Scottish Wildcat Action, a partnership project uniting experts from more than 20 key organisations including Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Gamekeepers Association.
Scottish wildcats are one of the UK’s most endangered species.
Work on preservation of the wildcat is one of the key projects in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.