Almost a third of Scotland’s wildcat population could be wiped out by a proposed windfarm development that would clear a huge swathe of their last forest stronghold, according to campaigners.
Wildcat Haven said the plans for Clashindarroch Forest near Huntly, in Aberdeenshire, by Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, would devastate wildcat habitats in an area in which at least 13 of the beasts exist – out of an estimated total population as low as 35.
A petition against the development has attracted almost 200,000 signatures.
The group has distributed Forestry Commission emails released under Freedom of Information legislation in which a district manager tells senior Forestry Commission Scotland staff: “We have two very significantly scaled windfarm proposals in the pipeline for Clashindarroch … Significant clear-felling is likely to be relevant to both … I will be surprised if the presence of Scottish wildcat does not become a significant issue during the planning process.”
One wind farm already operates on the site, and Wildcat Haven said the second would see a quarter of the forest felled, fracturing wildlife habitats including legally-protected territories and den sites.
It said 30% of the estimated wildcat population could be lost, leading to the extinction of the species.
Wildlife filmmaker and conservationist Steve Piper, said: “It’s appalling that the Forestry Commission, backed up by the Scottish Natural Heritage Scottish Wildcat Action project, are clear-felling the only known wildcat stronghold for wood pulp and claiming it’s good for the wildcats anyway, but it’s shameful they’re even considering a wind farm that would wipe out a quarter of this unique forest.”
A spokesperson for Forest Enterprise Scotland, said: “Once again, this interest group is making unsubstantiated and unqualified claims about the impact of forest management on wildcats in Clashindarroch … a productive forest managed sustainably to internationally recognised standards. We manage it to maintain a structurally diverse habitat that supports a very significant amount of biodiversity, whilst also enabling the forest to fulfil its other varied roles including supplying high quality timber. An important part of our stewardship involves carrying out a huge range of actions to conserve wildcats and other important species.”
A Scottish Wildcat Action spokesperson added: “It is very hard to comment on claims by this interest group given they do not publish reports on the work they claim to have done, other than occasional assertions, mainly through social media. We do not know the methods they use, nor how they identify wildcats and distinguish them from hybrid cats, nor have we seen any published results or analysis.”