Conservationists at the National Trust for Scotland have caught a rare image of a wildcat in the grounds of Leith Hall estate in Aberdeenshire.
The image was snapped by wildlife surveillance cameras funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, which were set up on Craigfall Hill in the grounds of the historic property a few weeks ago while snow still covered the ground.
Nature conservation advisor Rob Dewar said:
'Leith Hall nestles below open moorland and plantation forests deep in the Aberdeenshire countryside and is a haven for wildlife.'
'Sightings of Scottish wildcats had been reported on Craigfall Hill, but was it really here? That is why we decided to set up the new wildlife surveillance cameras in the hope of catching the Highland Tiger on camera.'
'Today the greatest threat to wildcats is through hybridisation with domestic or feral cats rather than habitat loss and persecution. The concern that we may lose the 'pure strain' of Scottish wildcat has resulted in research across the Highlands to determine the numbers, distribution, and genetic makeup of the cats.'
'We are really pleased that less than a week after the cameras were installed we had a result. There are a number of features used to determine how 'wild' the cat is, notably the size, markings, and shape of the tail. It would appear that the Leith Hall wildcat shows particularly strong features, and is indeed especially wild.'
The Trust will follow up the discovery at Leith Hall by working in partnership with a wildcat researcher, Kerry Kilshaw, who is carrying out a 3 year PHD project. The grounds at Leith Hall will be part of a 20km square research area to discover more about this mysterious moggy.