Wildcat conservation project given almost £1m
A conservation project to help the threatened Scottish wildcat has been given a Lottery grant of almost £1m.
The grant of £973,000 has been given to Wildcat Action - which involves more than 30 organisations, community groups and landowners.
Over the next five years it will focus on tackling the decline of wildcats in six recently identified priority areas.
The work is a key part of delivering the national Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan.
This will involve working with local communities to deliver benefits for the species.
The project will tackle long-term risks which involves raising awareness of wildcats and the threats they face.
It will provide training in wildcat surveys and wildcat-friendly land management practices, and involve schools and community projects in learning about wildcats and responsible domestic cat ownership.
The work will also co-ordinate neutering and vaccination of feral cats and will monitor the wild-living cat populations through an extensive network of trail cameras.
The project plans to work with land managers and local volunteers to deliver much of the work.
Colin McLean, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "We have some incredible native wildlife in Scotland but our species and habitats are under constant threat.
"We are delighted to see such a strong partnership working together for the good of this iconic Scottish species.
"We hope that with the Heritage Lottery Fund grant announced today, communities across the country will be inspired and empowered to safeguard the existence of these rare creatures."
Rhoda Grant, Highland and Islands Labour MSP and wildcat champion, said: "I am delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded this grant for taking forward the conservation action plan in the six priority areas identified, four of which are within the Highland and Moray areas that I represent.
"The work being done by all those involved in the action plan to ensure the survival of the wildcat is to be commended.
"The determination of the group is heartening and I know this money will be put to good use. It is a privilege to champion this beautiful species, which is very much a part of our heritage."
Ron Macdonald, director of policy and advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "We are thrilled to receive the support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the partner organisations and other contributors to the project.
"We now have the package in place that will hopefully safeguard wildcat populations in these six priority areas."
Alex Hogg, the Scottish Gamekeepers' Association chairman, said: "We have already done work in terms of wildcat identification with our members and, due to their practical knowledge, gamekeepers can be very useful in wildcat conservation in terms of trapping, field skills and the sighting of cameras, all of which will be useful in the ongoing effort."
The Heritage Lottery Fund money will be matched by contributions from the project partners, bringing the total project to £1.95m over five years.
The wildcat priority areas are the Angus Glens, Strathbogie (near Huntly), Morvern, northern Strathspey, Strathavon and Strathpeffer.