THE first-ever release of Scottish wildcats back into nature is set to take place later this year.

The announcement comes after NatureScot approved a licence application from the Saving Wildcats partnership to release wildcats in the Cairngorms National Park.

The partnership plans to release around 20 wildcats each year, with the first trial release planned for June 2023.

The cats are to be GPS tagged so they can be traced around the park.

The National:

NatureScot said the decision marks the “first-ever conservation translocation of wildcats in Britain” aimed at helping to restore Scotland’s critically endangered wildcat population.

NatureScot’s head of biodiversity Dr Katherine Leys said: “Habitat loss, persecution and hybridisation with domestic cats has brought the Scottish wildcat population to the brink of extinction.

"The Saving Wildcats partnership has been a lifeline for the species and our decision to grant a translocation licence to allow wildcats to be released in the Highlands of Scotland marks a crucial point in the long journey towards conserving this iconic species.

“This journey is not without difficulty, and we know that there are more hurdles to overcome before we reach the point where we are ready to release the wildcats into carefully selected areas of the Cairngorms National Park.

"Once there, the wildcats will face further challenges, so it’s crucial the project continues to work with local communities, farmers, land-owners and cat owners to ensure wildcats are given the best chance to survive and thrive.

“We are incredibly proud to be part of the Saving Wildcats project, as we take another step towards restoring the ‘Highland Tiger’ to Scotland’s landscapes for future generations to cherish.”

The National:

Saving Wildcats project lead and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland head of conservation, Dr Helen Senn, said: “It is fantastic to reach this milestone and press ahead with planning for trial wildcat releases in the Cairngorms over the summer.

“When the time comes, we will be able to move wildcats under licence from pre-release enclosures at Highland Wildlife Park to carefully selected areas in the Cairngorms Connect landscape which provide a suitable mix of habitats and potential prey for the species.

“After release, the wildcats will be monitored using GPS collars as they face the many challenges of life in the wild.

“The fight to restore Scotland’s wildcat populations is just beginning and we are grateful to everyone providing expertise and support along the way.”