PhD Studentship: Scottish Wildcat conservation and the ecology of sympatric cats

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Main Supervisor: Prof Robbie McDonald (CLES, University of Exeter)

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+DTP). The GW4+DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

Scottish wildcats are amongst the highest conservation priorities in the UK and Europe. They are the subject of Scottish Wildcat Action, a major multi-agency conservation programme being undertaken in the species-refugia in the Highlands of Scotland. As wildcats are fully protected as a European Protected Species, the main and ongoing problem they now face is hybridisation with domestic and free-living, owned and unowned cats.

This project will work towards understanding and mitigating this conservation challenge and will work alongside major wildcat conservation programmes providing research insight, input and support to this vital and urgent conservation work.

The student will work on the ecology, biology, health and management of wildcats, feral and domestic cats living in sympatry in the Scottish wildcat priority areas and beyond. Using tracking and proximity logging technologies they will understand the movements and interactions of all cats. By using stable isotope technologies they will understand variation in foraging and how this relates to ranging behaviour.

They will understand factors affecting the health, microbiota, welfare and behaviour of cats in the project area. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach using techniques from the social sciences, they will work with cat owners to understand how owners manage, feed and care for their cats. Overall they will develop an understanding of how and where hybridisation might take place and how this and other interactions between wild and domestic cats can be managed to improve the conservation of the Scottish wildcat.

This is an exciting, applied research project in which students will acquire a breadth of skills in conservation science. The student will join thriving teams of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers working on wildlife ecology, conservation and management at Exeter and Cardiff Universities. In addition they will benefit from a parallel project working on cats, cat owners and predation of wildlife. This is a CASE project with our partners at Scottish Natural Heritage meaning the student will gain valuable practical experience of conservation in action and the policy and practice environments in a statutory nature conservation agency and a large multi-agency conservation programme.


Scottish Natural Heritage. Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan. (2013)

Kilshaw, K. et al. (2016) Mapping the spatial configuration of hybridization risk for an endangered population of the European wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) in Scotland. Mammal Res. 61, 1-11 (2016).

Please see for full information regarding applications.

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South West England