Usually we would welcome predators into the reserve; they are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. We have resident stoats and weasels, foxes and badgers and are happy to know that our ecosystem can support them. Domestic cats, like this one photographed early in the morning in the woods in Village Green, are a very different proposition.
Because there are so many visiting dogs, cats are rarely seen in the reserve during the day but we are sure that they come to hunt here at night and this is a problem.
Polecat and grey squirrel
Wild predators such as a stoat or even a wildcat maintain a very specific relationship with their hunting territories. When prey species become so scarce in its territory that a predator has to expend more calories in finding and catching its dinner than that dinner can possibly provide, it’s time to move on. A polecat, for instance, is long gone before a local population of squirrels is in danger of being wiped out.
Domestic cats, well and regularly fed in our kitchens, are not subject to such natural controls. A plump and healthy cat might well spend the night catching and eating the last of any of our protected mammal species: water voles, dormice or pygmy shrews for instance. If prey is so scarce that it catches nothing during the night, the domestic cat just goes home for its breakfast, sleeps all day and tries again the next night to catch the park’s last Bechstein bat.
We love our pets in Britain but we are, in fact, maintaining an enormous population of free-roaming predators that take a terrible toll on our wildlife. It is estimated that there are 11 million cats in the UK and, the Mammal Society says, they kill 275 million items of prey every year.
These are numbers that have to be taken seriously, not just by conservationists and pet owners, but by educators, town planners and the enormous service industry that supports and encourages pet ownership.
Perhaps cat owners should be keeping their cats inside at night?
Any suggestion, no matter how sensible or obvious, seems to be met with outrage from SOMEBODY. Social media has made it hard to express unpopular opinions, particularly when it comes to the nation’s pets.
In the US, 75% of cats are kept indoors. There are several reasons – US cat owners that let their pets roam are much more likely than UK cat owners to be sued for any damage their pet does – several states class free-roaming cats as feral which seems to put them in the same category as pests that can hunted and destroyed – California seems to require that you licence a free-roaming cat (I may have misunderstood this one) – there is a huge and powerful industry devoted to the manufacture and sale of the equipment you will need if you keep your cat indoors.
For some reason my account with you cannot be found using my email – firstname.lastname@example.org and name Barbara Johnson despite that fact that it is apparently used when you print my comment! Any suggestions?
Sorry, I can’t help. I think your account must be with Gravatar, the people who give you the unique pattern that is posted next to your comment; you could try them. The only other suggestion I can make is that WordPress, our web host, makes adjustments ALL the time that sometimes have unforeseen consequences but if you wait a while, they notice and put it right.