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.