Wednesday 25 April 2012

Really Wild Cats?

Yesterday was the closing conference for the Cairngorm Wildcat project. After four years of intensive study and working with landowners to champion the plight of the Highland Tiger, the project is coming to an end. But that won't be the end of the work aimed at saving the wildcat from extinction in Scotland. There was a real sense of positivity at the conference. A feeling that the close of this project  was really the beginning of a new phase, one where something might really start to be achieved, building on the knowledge, experience and relationships that the project has helped to develop.

Wildcat - the highland tiger sneaks through a hole in the fence
There were many interesting things discussed but one of the most immediately startling was the reminder that one of the greatest threats to the 400 or so 'true' wildcats still in the wild remains the threat from hybrid and domestic cats. A staggering 90% of the wild-living cats that inhabit the Cairngorms National park are thought to be either domestic or hybrid cats, only the remaining 10% are 'true' wildcats.' These feral and hybrid cats are a threat to the wildcat because they compete for the same resources (food, habitat, den sites, etc.) as well as transmitting diseases but they can also compete for mates meaning that there can be a reduction in the 'wild lineage' if the 'true' Scottish Wildcats are prevented from breeding with each other. As there are about 17,000 people living in and around the National Park and 1 in 6 of us own a cat, responsible cat ownership is perhaps more relevant than ever before. Have a look at the pictures of the wildcat (above) and hybrid (below) and see if you can tell the difference.

Hybrid cat - the white 'socks' are a dead giveaway.  
So the hopeful outlook of the conference will, with luck and more than a little hard graft, translate into an optimistic outlook for the wildcat. Certainly, there is a lot of goodwill for the Scotland's last wild feline. Now we have to turn its recovery into reality.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. It started in 1970 in the USA and has steadily gained force, becoming a worldwide event during the '90s though it's still not that well recognised in the UK. The idea behind the day is an attempt to "Mobilize the Earth" into doing more to celebrate and benefit the environment - if we all take one day where we think about how our actions are affecting the Earth, maybe it will be in our consciousness more often.

Here's a thought provoking Earth Day video from the US Environmental Protection Agency that has a message equally relevant for over here:

The littering issue isn't too bad here on Atholl Estaes as we're happy to see that most of our visitors seem to respect the landscape and take their rubbish away with them. That said, we do have to deal with the occasional trouble hot-spot and keep on top of things in the busier areas. But thank you to everyone who does their best to take their litter away and keep Scotland clean for everyone!

Friday 13 April 2012

Logierait Woods is teeming with primroses at the moment. Every sheltered bit of bank seems to have some yellow flowers growing on it. Primroses are one of the first of our flowers to be seen in the spring - its name comes from 'prima rosa' - the first flower. They flower early to take advantage of the lack of competition for the sunlight, before other plants grow up around them. They need damp conditions so are usually found in woodland and banks tucked out of the direct sunlight.

Primroses appear to be declining in East Anglia, proabably because the climate has become somewhat warmer and drier, and it simply isn't damp enough for them anymore. This is not a problem that we are having in Scotland!

Primroses are one of the species that Plantlife are monitoring to look at changes in British wild flower populations. If you would like to help them by counting primroses in your area, find out more from:

Thursday 5 April 2012

Out with the old and in with the new

The recent warm weather of last week seems like a distant memory with the current cold snap. It was a chilly  -7°C this morning and the damp air made it feel even colder. But the day brightened up a little this afternoon and there are still see plenty of signs of spring on show - it's all about change at this time of year! 

The red deer stag in the deer park at the castle has recently lost his antlers. He will be without them for a while although it won't be too long before they start growing again, to be ready for the rut in autumn.

Discarded Red Deer antler (© David Perez)

Red deer (Cervus elaphus) digesting their lunch. But which one is the stag?
Answer: he's the larger, lighter coloured one with stubby 'nobbles' on his head

The sheep are lambing and there are little lambs starting to run about, worrying their mothers as they play and explore.

April lambs exploring

Also happening this spring: the pony trekking center at the castle is open again for riding. If you're interested in having a go then look on the website but remember that you will need to book in advance. We had a go recently and think it's good fun!

BBC Springwatch (the modern-day herald of spring?) won't be on until May but there are plenty of signs to look out for in the month between now and then! See what you can spot for yourself if you come up to the castle for a visit, or in your own garden and surrounding countryside. You can comment below to let us know what you've seen!