Farmer is rewilding his farm with wildcats

Wildcat

Derek Gow used to be a farmer. Perhaps he still considers himself to be a farmer. Although he is passionately interested in wildlife, nature, rewilding and conservation. He is also a concerned environmentalist and has been described as a renegade re-wilder. The word “renegade” refers to the fact that he is frustrated with the UK government’s commitment to protecting nature. He says that he has grown tired of listening “to the whining of old farts whose vision of the future is absolutely one of the past”.

Boris Johnson, the current UK’s Prime Minister, declared last week that 30% of the UK’s land would be protected for the recovery of nature by 2030. He has opponents and this is a classic situation where there will be people on the side of using the available space on the island (UK) for commerce and those who want to protect it and control human population growth.

Wildcat

Wildcat. Photo: Phil Yeomans – BNPS.

Mr Gow has simply gone ahead and rewilded his 150 acre farm in Devon. It has been transformed into a wildlife reserve. He loves beavers and considers them to be “the saviours of life, the Earth’s kidneys. Around them all life revolves”.

It also very interestingly to me that he is breeding cranes and wildcats which he plans to release next year. The Times author, Rosie Kinchen, writes that you don’t need a licence to breed and release wildcats. Let’s be clear what we mean by “wildcats”. He is referring to a specific species of wild cat. This is a small wild cat of which there are three subspecies: the domestic cat, the African-Asian wildcat and the European wildcat. There may be some discussion about the species of wildcat but the sake of argument I have listed three; one of which is no longer wild and domesticated namely the domestic cat.

The question I have is whether the Times author is correct in saying that you don’t need a licence for a wildcat. Under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (Modification) (No.2) Order 2007 my research indicates that the wildcat is excepted from the need to have a licence so they are correct.

That’s interesting. However, Mr Gow is entering into a minefield of difficulties in my opinion. Although I admire him deeply for doing this. The first problem is the difficulty in breeding a genuine, purebred wildcat. Are there any left in the UK? Probably not because all the Scottish wildcats have probably become hybrids having mated with either domestic or feral cats. Perhaps he has gone abroad to the continent and imported some European wildcats. They are rare on the continent but they do exist. The numbers are declining. They too have the same problem of hybridisation. Perhaps he is not too particular about whether the cats are purebred or not.

But in truth, if you really want to keep and breed a wildcat it should be purebred otherwise it’s a moggie! Then the next problem starts because after you breed purebred wildcats and you release them into your 150 acre farm which is unfenced, they’re going to mate with other cats and create hybrids. Before long, after the founding cats have died off, they’ll be no purebred cats left. Therefore, although I am being very negative, I don’t see how he’s going to be successful in that particular aspect of his project. He’ll end up breeding tabby moggies.

He intends to make it a commercial success by charging for people to visit. He was inspired by Holland’s Oostvaardersplassen reserve.

Nonetheless, he’s an admirable guy trying to cut through the red tape of nature conservation in the UK. The UK is gradually being depleted in terms of biodiversity and its richness with respect to landscape and nature. It’s sad but as the human population increases quite rapidly on the island, I foresee more losses in respect of wild landscape and the creatures which inhabit it.