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Wildcats could be released into the countryside following breeding programme at Wildwood park near Canterbury

Wildcats could be released into the countryside for the first time in 200 years following a breeding programme at a Kent wildlife park.

Said to be the rarest British mammal, small wildcats populations are now only concentrated in Scotland, but the animals used to roam the countryside across the UK until they were hunted to near extinction.

The wildcat could soon be released into the countryside in Kent
The wildcat could soon be released into the countryside in Kent

Now, Wildwood at Herne, near Canterbury, which specialises in preserving British wildlife, is building a new breeding centre with a view to releasing the cats into the countryside in the future.

Wildcats are more muscular than domestic cats with thicker tails and flatter faces. They feed on rabbits, small voles and birds.

They can be vicious if cornered but are also extremely reclusive.

Wildwood is working with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Vincent Wildlife Trust on the ground-breaking project.

The new enclosures will be built set back from the main park to ensure the welfare of the animals and their young, and to offer the project and re-introductions the best chance possible of success.

wildcat kittens
wildcat kittens

Each one will house a breeding pair of cats, whose kittens will later be released into the wild.

Senior wildcat keeper at Wildwood Trust, Sally Holt, said: "This is a key step for everyone involved in the project. The breeding of this secretive species can be challenging.

"Off-show breeding enclosures will create a quieter environment and will help kittens develop key survival behaviour.

"Wildcats have very particular den box preferences, so we have worked hard with researchers to find the right design for the new enclosures. It will be so exciting to see all this work come to fruition."

The building work on the enclosures is being funded by supporters of the Wildwood Trust and a generous donation from the Veolia Environmental Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund, but further funds are needed.

Escaped animals, unusual finds and news from the RSPCA can all be found here.

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