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  1. ITV Report

The Devon farmer planning to reintroduce wildcats to English countryside

Sheep farmer Derek Gow breeds wildcats. Credit: ITV News West Country

A Devon sheep farmer is confident of reintroducing wildcats to the English countryside after launching his own breeding programme.

The wildcat was once a common sight across England and Wales before they were wiped out by gamekeepers and interbreeding.

A small population remains in Scotland but conservationists say these are under increasing risk - and there are fears the animal could become extinct.

Wildcats are virtually extinct in the UK - with only a small number remaining in Scotland. Credit: ITV News West Country

But Derek Gow, from west Devon, hopes to restore the wildcat to its former glory after breeding the animals on his farm.

We are hoping to pick up some more cats from Scotland in the next couple of weeks, so the breeding facilities that we have will have four or five pairs of cats in them by the time we come to spring next year. We have four kittens here, some of which will be going to other zoos involved in the breeding programme, and we hope that within the next two or three years, we will have sufficient cats for a reintroduction in the wider English landscape.

– Derek Gow, wildcat breeder

Earlier this year, Derek shared a picture of his wildcat litter on Twitter - much to the joy of his followers.

In a more recent post, he said wildcats could become “kings” in the countryside if they were to be reintroduced because there is no obvious predator.

But that is precisely what some people fear, with Phil Stocker from the National Sheep Association concerned about the potentially harmful impact they could have on other wildlife.

Phil Stocker, from the National Sheep Association, is concerned about the reintroduction of wildcats. Credit: ITV News West Country

Our farmers are concerned about the losses they could incur by an apex predator being released in the countryside that is likely to take sheep and particularly lambs at birth.

– Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association