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Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Big Cats in Britain Conference: Somerset March 2008


37 reports last year in the county

It is over 40 years since the first public spate of sightings hit the headlines with the Surrey Puma, yet we are still no closer to solving the mystery. Experts from all over the country will be gathering to discuss if these cats really are all black leopards? Hybrids? or a relic, indigenous species that we never knew existed alongside us, ever since the Ice Age?The Big Cats in Britain group average three sightings daily from all over the countryside including Ireland, in fact people these days are more likely to see a big cat rather than a pig.

The conference will be held at Tropiquaria near Watchet, Somerset, on the weekend of the 7th of March. Conference organiser Mark Fraser said: “Each year the BCIB group hold a conference with guest speakers, focusing on the ever increasing reports of apparent large cats in the British Isles. This years speakers include Merrily Harpur, Richard Freeman, Jonathan Downes, Chris Moiser, and Dr Darren Naish. Also in attendance will be local researchers, and Nigel Brierly will be making a guest appearance.

It is now generally accepted that there are large cats in the British countryside, the question is, what are they? BCIB logged 37 big cat reports for the county last year, and are interested in hearing from witnesses who believe they may have seen a big cat in the area. We are especially interested in any hard evidence such as photographs, casts etc. Complete anonymity will be given to witnesses.

Everyone is welcome to attend the conference and it should be a weekend to remember. There is so much interest in big cat sightings now and this will a chance for people to hear from experts, as well as the many people who have actually seen them with their own eyes.

The conference starts on the Friday until the Sunday evening. There will be book stalls, debates, quiz, raffle, stalls and a tour of Tropiquaria. Full details can be found on the website www.bigcatsinbritain.org or contact organiser Mark Fraser on 07940 016972.

A sampling of Somerset reports made directly to BCIB

February: Black cat (not sure) it was in silhouette. Tail: 2 foot long - 2 and a half feet at shoulder and 4 foot long. Seen for 45 seconds about 20 metres away.“I was walking my dog near Spaxton, I saw a deer running a full speed then realised it was being chased by a big cat. I watched it until it disappeared then heard it growl.” (Source: BCIB).

24th February: Two friends, Paul Smith and Peter Coales had been up in the Quantocks when they spotted what they say was a large black cat. (Source: BCIB).

25th April: I've had an email from a lady today that lives not to far from me (Simonsmith) about a big cat that visit’s her garden. She first saw it about a year ago, she then went and planted a catnip plant in her garden. Since then every few days it comes back to her garden it comes in smells around and then just lies there.(Source: Anthony Bevan).

2nd May: Three witnesses; Yeo Valley Foods, Isleport Business Park, Highbrige Reddish fawn - about 5 feet long - 2 to 3 high. Tufted ears - short tail. Seen for10 to 15 minutes at a distance of 100 feet - 5 feet long - 2 to 3 feet high.“I am a lorry driver on a pick up from Yeo valley foods - waiting in cab on loading bay. Opposite is scrub ground fenced in tall grass bushes. I saw movement, reddish fawn colour, then I saw its head - it was a big cat, ear short dark tips, white inside, dark tip to nose white under jaw. It just ambled away from fence behind some scrub. I got out the cab and got another driver local to the area and went to the fence, spotted it again , got another driver over local to area, We watched it as it made its way through scrub ground. It turned its head several times - cathead - moved like a cat hunting. Now it went over side of ground - went along railway bar type fence back just visible above grass too big to go through fence went under in to some marsh ground with reeds - saw it turn its head back then it was gone. When up against fence able to gauge length / height 5 feet long - 2 to 3 high didn’t look to have much of a tail. One driver local said it was a cat too. I have not heard of any reports.” (Source: BCIB).

4th May: Shortwood Lane, Litton. Dark red to dark brown, very slight barring, pointed ears, thin tail about one foot (not long). Seen for about 45 seconds at a distance starting at 100 yards closing to 5 yards. Height about 20 inches at the shoulder, small round head with pointed ears and short nose, shortish tale, long thin body, long legs, longer at the back. Not a heavy animal.“Cycling up the lane (South eastward) relatively silently at dusk with headlight on, could see something in road 100 to 75 yards ahead, as I closed on it realised it was an animal in the middle of the road with back to me, it was picking at a road kill carcase, as I neared it turned it's head and looked at me then without rush, got up and sloped off into a very thick hedge/thicket on my left. This was certainly not a fox and was far too tall to be a domestic cat. It was about 200 yards from the nearest dwelling. Apart from the thick hedge, there are open fields around the site with a wood three fields away.“I walk the area very regularly and see lots of the wildlife, I two years ago, in adjoining field saw eyes at night (with a large torch) which were not explainable as deer, fox or badger. This sighting was as a result of my sheepdog making me aware of and challenging an animal I had not seen. Dog was very aggressive and barking madly.” (Source: BCIB).

May: Frome - Somerset. Spotted a large black cat from 80 yards away, which seemed to be stalking something in fields near Frome. (Source: BCIB).

1st June: Adam Weightman - Two witnesses. A37 approaching Midsomer Norton at midnight when the cat ran out from the roadside - very fast and agile, jumped into a hedge on the opposite side of the road. Dark reddish, spots, short tail, looked very similar to a lynx - docked but wide and floppy. Pointed ears. Seen for ten seconds at a distance of 50 meters / similar size to a large dog. (Source: BCIB).

28th July: 15.30 - Two witnesses. On a footpath behind 'Old Fosse Road' Odd Down, Bath. Black - no markings. Thick and long tail. Taller and longer than a domestic cat, but smaller than a panther. Seen for10 seconds - about 30 - 40 feet away.“We were walking along a tree lined footpath, towards Odd Down, with rugby club field and new housing development to our left. The cat was moving towards us, then turned in profile, saw us and disappeared through the hedge into the rugby club field. (Source: BCIB).

24th August: 4am - Lynx-like cat spotted along Touches Lane, Chard. Could not make out the colour - lynx. Tail: short, it was only a fleeting sight, tufted ears. About the size of a medium dog, 15- 20 seconds“I was woken by a very strange sound and so I looked out the window, we have an orange light flashing outside our house and I caught a glimpse of something moving, as I looked harder it trotted into the forest next to our house a weird whooping type noise, we have also heard a screeching noise several times but have seen nothing“No other sightings really just weird behaviour from our dog and the decline in deer sightings as we used to get them in our garden all the time“If this is a lynx , we live near a wildlife park ( Cricket St Thomas) and it could be that it may have escaped from there.” (Source: BCIB).

September: Panther sighting at Colfors near Frome. (Source: Marcus Mathews).

September: Panther sighting at Colfors near Frome. (Source: Marcus Mathews).

September: Panther sighting at Colfors near Frome. (Source: Marcus Mathews).

24th December: Last night, 24th December a very reliable person was driving his car just past Tropiquaria heading towards Simonsbath when he saw two big cats in the road in front of him. He has studied photos of big cats and was able to identify them as being lynx, the cats jumped over the hedge at the side of the road as the gentleman approached. The gentleman has worked in the countryside with animals all his life, is very knowledgeable of native wildlife, and is a very reliable person. It was dark, about 7.30pm and as he came round a bend before reaching Minehead, he saw the two cats in front of him in the road, one jumped over a hedge at the side of the road and the other stayed still and looked at the car and when he got closer this cat then jumped over the hedge. He drives a Vauxhall Astra and the hedge was higher then his car. He said that their pointed ears stood out as he was looking at them from behind. (Source: Christoper Johnston & Anthony Bevan).

2007 Big Cat Stats: 675 reports

England

Yorkshire 64 / reports
Devon 38 / reports
Somerset 37 / reports
Leicestershire 36 / reports
Wiltshire 31 / reports
Gloucestershire 31 / reports
Norfolk 23 / reports
Kent 18 / reports
Shropshire 15 / reports
Essex 14 / reports
Buckinghamshire 14 /reports
Cornwall 12 / reports
Dorset 12 / reports
Cambridgeshire 12 / reports
Derbyshire 10 / reports
Sussex 10 / reports
Staffordshire 10 / reports
Berkshire / 9 reports
Cheshire / 9 reports
CO Durham 9 / reports
Hertfordshire 9 / reports
Lancashire 8 / reports
Northumberland 8 / reports
Lincolnshire 7 / reports
Rutland 7 / reports
Suffolk 7 / reports
Surrey 7 / reports
Northamptonshire 6 / reports
Hampshire 6 / reports
Cumbria 5 / reports
Middlesex 4 / reports
Nottinghamshire 4 / reports
Oxfordshire 4 / reports
Teesside 4 / reports
Cleveland / 3 reports
Worcestershire 3 / reports
Bedfordshire / 2 reports
Warwickshire 2 / reports
Tyne & Wear 1 / reports

Scotland

Fife 19 / reports
Aberdeenshire 17 / reports
Renfrewshire 9 / reports
Angus & Forsarshire 9 / reports
Ayrshire 9 / reports
Banffshire 8 / reports
Argyll & Bute 6 / reports
Dumfries & Galloway 5 / reports
West Lothian 3 / reports
Inverness-shire 3 / reports
Caithness 2 / reports
Dunbartonshire 2 / reports
Morayshire 2 / reports
Nairnshire 2 / reports
Perthshire 2 / reports
Stirlingshire 2 / reports
Sutherland 1 / reports
East Lothian 1 / reports
Roxburghshire 1 / reports
Selkirkshire 1 / reports
Lanarkshire 1 / reports
Wigtonshire 1 / reports
Berwickshire 1 / reports

Wales

Glamorgan 6 / reports
Denbigshire 4 / reports
Monmouthshire 3 / reports
Anglesey 2 / reports
Cardiganshire 1 / report
Brecknockshire 1 / report
Carmarthenshire 1 / report
Montgomeryshire 1 / report
N Ireland
CO Antrim 2 / reports
CO Armagh 1 / report
CO Derry 1 / report
CO Tyrone 1 / report
Ireland
CO Monaghan 6 / reports
CO Donegal 2 / reports
CO Sligo 1 / report

Over four decades, the Surrey Puma of the 1960s has been joined by the Exmoor Beast, the Beast of Bodmin, the Fen Tiger, the Beast of Ongar, the Pedmore Panther, the Beast of Gloucester, the Thing from the Ling, the Beast of Borehamwood, the Wrangaton Lion, the Beast of Shap, the Beast of Brentwood, the Lindsey Leopard, the Lincolnshire Lynx, the Wildcat of the Wolds, the Beast of Roslin, the Kilmacolm Big Cat, the Beast of Burford, the Chilterns Lion, the Beast of Castor, the Beast of Sydenham, the Shooters Hill Cheetah, the Beast of Bucks, the Plumstead Panther, the Beast of Bexley, the Beast of Barnet, the Nottingham Lion, the Durham Puma, the Horndon Panther, the Beast of Cricklewood, the Beast of Bont, the Beast of Gobowen ... and many more.

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