FORESTRY bosses have dismissed claims that tree-felling and plans for two wind turbines in an Aberdeenshire woodland are endangering what is the largest viable population of Scottish wildcats in existence.

An independent campaign group – Wildcat Haven – said it had identified at least 13 wildcats living in Clashindarroch Forest, which Scottish Wildcat Action (SWA) had previously named as one of its five priority sites for conservation of the species.

Haven said its research had revealed extensive commercial exploitation in the forest, including widespread clear-felling and the planned installation of two large-scale wind farms, both of which threatened “considerable disturbance” to the wildcats which could lead females abandoning, or even eating their kittens.

The group’s Kev Bell, who caught on film a 4ft-long cat dubbed the “Clashindarroch Beast”, asked the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to cease their activities more than a year ago.

“We’re appalled by what’s going on,” he said. “The exact area where we filmed the Beast just weeks ago is right now being clear-felled for things like toilet roll and wind farm install-ations, right when wildcats are breeding and raising kittens.

“This is the last viable population of Scottish wildcats left anywhere, and FCS, while publicly claiming to be protecting them, are actively chopping down their home around them.

“It’s a national scandal; we’re at risk of losing our iconic wildcat to these thoughtless actions.”

FCS, which manages the woodland, said it produces high-quality timber used in housing (60%), wood board, woodfuel and pulp (30%) and pallets (6%), but no toilet paper.

All of Forest Enterprise Scotland’s (FES) tree felling and replanting plans and operations were independently certified to international standards of best practice and ensured a balanced structure was maintained.

It said there are proposals for wind arms in the area, but if they progressed they would be subject to “the full environmental impact assessment, public consultation and planning processes”.

“The land management plans shared with Wildcat Haven show indicative areas for wind farm boundaries, but the footprint of individual turbines within that area will be comparatively small,” said the FCS.

“Wildcats can be present in the forest and yet not be in the vicinity of planned felling operations.

“In this case operations were immediately suspended till further checks were carried out (Wildcat Haven did not provide any evidence of a wildcat being present in the area where felling was taking place) and FES decided to return to the area only outwith the breeding season.

“FES has been presented with one piece of footage that purports to show a wildcat. However, Wildcat Haven does not have our permission to install camera traps in Clashindarroch (where extensive surveying is already being carried out by SWA) and, as they have refused to advise us where this footage was taken, the footage is inconclusive.”

A spokesperson for FES added: “We welcome Wildcat Haven’s continued interest in our forest management and for giving us the opportunity to promote and explain the integrated and vital work being done through Scottish Wildcat Action to save Scotland’s wildcats.”