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Sunday, 25 January 2009

Big Cats in Britain coming to the North East

The Big Cats in Britain group is holding its 3rd annual conference at the Marton Country Club in Middlesbrough. Investigators from around the British Isles and Ireland will be attending the meeting on the weekend of March the 20th to the 22nd.

Big Cats have been reported in the British Isles for over 50 years, and we are no closer to discovering just exactly what these animals are. The media focus has usually been on the ‘Beast of Exmoor or Bodmin.’ But the greatest number of reports, that BCIB receive, actually come from the North of England. Big black panther-like cats, lynx, pumas, are they really roaming our countryside?

Researchers from the beginning of this saga will be present at the conference to reveal their research. People such as Di Francis who first brought the subject to the public’s attention in the early 80s with her books such as the Beast of Exmoor, Cat Country and My Highland Kellas cats, will be revealing never before published pictures of a large cat found on the shores of the Oban Estuary.

Inspector Eddie Bell of the Durham Police will also presenting results of his 22 years of research in the area. His information on the subject in the North East is invaluable. He said: “I think there are wild-born animals out there – enough to maintain a local population. We have had very good sightings from people who should know, like biologists, and also other evidence such as a footprint identified as a puma near Barnard Castle.”

North east ecologist Ian Bond of the Northumbrian Mammal Group will also be speaking at the conference, he reports: “There have been clusters of sightings in Tynedale in Northumberland, in Weardale and Barnard Castle, and in the Hartlepool-Trimdon-Sedgefield area. “The focus now seems to be in the Tynedale area with sightings in double figures in the last two years. “I have no doubt whatsoever that there are some big cats out there, possibly of two or three different species. “Sightings have been made by excellent naturalists who would not have got it wrong.”

Chris Hall is another local researcher who will be speaking. Mr Hall has spent the last three years following up reports and interviewing witness in the area, he has been responsible for discovering previously unpublished reports. He has also organised, along with the Aycliffe and District preservation group, a vintage bus tour, with running commentary, to the Castle Eden Walkway.

Naturalist and Natural History museum curator Jonathan McGowan will be travelling from Dorset to present his findings. Jonathan is a prolific field researcher, and has found convincing evidence of large cats in the British countryside, and featured on last year’s History Channels ‘Monster Quest’ documentary, along with conference organiser, Mark Fraser.

Speakers will be coming from as far away as Scotland and the Irish Republic. Dr Peter McCue will be presenting a different slant to the subject, not everybody believes that these animals are flesh and blood creatures!

Other activities include workshops with ecologist Rick Minter.

• Raffle

• Books stalls and memorabilia

• Northumbrian Mammal Group display.

• Dorset big cat display

• Field craft displays

• A live web cam

• Skulls and cats

This is a unique gathering of the country’s leading researchers on the subject. The audience will be invited to take part as much as possible, relating their own experiences or asking questions. BCIB are looking for witnesses to contact them with sightings in their area, video footage, photographs are most welcomed. Your anonymity will be assured if that is your wish. A short film is being produced from the area, and any persons wishing to take part should contact BCIB for filming in February.

Conference organiser Mark Fraser said: “The subject of whether or not big cats exist in Britain is a popular one, nearly everybody knows someone who claims to have seen one of our mysterious felines. It is hoped by these gatherings we can get nearer to the truth and obtain hard evidence of these animals.”

Tickets cost for the full weekend £25 – one day £15 each. All enquiries to Mark Fraser on 07766416211 or visit the big cats in Britain website at www.bigcatsinbritain.org

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