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Critically endangered Scottish wildcats’ habitat to become wind farm

Conservation groups have criticised the Scottish government over a plan to turn a publicly-owned forest, which is a habitat for critically endangered Scottish wildcats, into a wind farm.

Concerns were first raised when independent conservation group Wildcat Haven found 13 critically endangered Scottish wildcats living in the publicly-owned Clashindarroch Forest, Aberdeenshire. The forest had already been placed on a list of priority areas for wildcat conservation, but has now been designated for a wide-ranging logging project and the construction of a wind farm.

Authorities have said that the wildcats living in the forest would find the logging beneficial, but stakeholders from Wildcat Haven and other conservation groups have warned that the disturbance the logging would represent to the wildcat population could be devastating.
Where do the Scottish government’s conservation authorities stand on the issue?

Government agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has come under fire in particular, given its responsibility for defending environmental and conservation concerns. SNH launched a dedicated wildcat conservation project, called Scottish Wildcat Action, in 2015 with a budget of £2m. However, since the establishment of the project, natural wildcat populations have dropped by 75%, and SNH has come out in support of the plan to clear-fell parts of Clashindarroch Forest.

Further, the government has also come under criticism for ignoring a public outcry over the plan to install a wind farm so close to the wildcats’ habitat. Some 250,000 people signed a petition expressing their concern with the plan and calling on the government to protect the forest, but one month later, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has not acknowledged the petition.

Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for Wildcat Haven, criticised the failure of the authorities to acknowledge public concerns about the project, saying: “It blows the mind that the primary governmental group for wildcat conservation is so keen to defend work which very obviously threatens the last chance for survival this species has… The law is clearly worded and it is entirely illegal to deliberately or recklessly disturb wildcats. Forestry Commission Scotland have done both, SNH have supported them doing it, and the [government] can’t even be bothered to comment on it.”