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Are you feline bad about cats killing wildlife?

If there’s one topic that’s likely to get us gardeners going, it’s the animals that share our gardens with us. And cats roaming free in our gardens is an issue that splits opinion.

We all regard the creatures that live in our gardens differently.

Some people are happy to see hedgehogs, but don’t like badgers because they can cause damage. Some of us are horrified to see sparrowhawks descending on our bird tables, while others are thrilled to see nature in action.

And sometimes our idea of a pet and wildlife can become muddled – some people feed foxes, but others are hell bent on getting rid of them, especially if they’ve got chickens – which are either pets or considered as ‘livestock’…

Predatory pets and our wildlife population

But if there’s one animal that really divides opinion, it’s cats. According to our recent survey, eight in ten people reported troublesome cats in their gardens. And half cited problems with these cats killing wild birds.

And in the June issue of Which? Gardening, garden writer and biologist Ken Thompson points to a survey that was carried out a while ago (but is still the best data around) about the antics of our feline friends. The survey suggests that over five months, British cats killed 57.4 million mammals, 27.1 million birds and 4.8 million reptiles and amphibians.

The survey leaves plenty of questions unanswered, but there’s no denying that this is slaughter on a pretty massive scale.

Ken says that we don’t know how far cats are just mopping up ‘surplus’ wildlife, ie. young, old or sick animals that might have died from other causes anyway. But what we do know is that fear of predation is a problem in itself, and can reduce wildlife populations.

Pouncing on the problem of killer cats

As a cat lover, this all makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as Ken’s suggestion: think twice about keeping a cat.

If you must have a cat, just have one of them. Also attaching a bell or alarm to a cat’s collar has been shown to reduce predation, and keeping it indoors means killing is kept to a minimum (nocturnal animals are protected at night, and birds during the day).

There’s one piece of good news – feeding birds in your garden doesn’t increase the number killed, since the large numbers of birds seem better at spotting cats and raising the alarm.

Dog owners out there may be feeling smug at this point, but Ken says that dogs can induce exactly the same fear as cats. And a big dog is one of the few things that can kill an adult hedgehog (cats and foxes can’t).

The animal lover’s dilemma – wildlife versus pets

So, it’s a tricky one, isn’t it? As a nation of animal lovers, we’re not about to give up our pets. Maybe it’s a case of managing them as best we can, and doing our best to help wildlife thrive at the same time (putting out bird feeders, for example, and creating wildlife-friendly gardens).

If you’re anti other people’s cats, you could try an ultrasonic device – our research has shown that while they might not deter cats altogether, it might stop them sticking around.

Ultimately, though, we probably just need to learn to live with everything that comes into our gardens. As Ken says: ‘If you provide an opportunity, whether living space or food, don’t be surprised when something takes advantage of it.’

Comments
Guest
deegeepee says:
2 October 2014

What do teh RSPB have to say on this emotive subject? Well the below is taken from their website…

Are cats causing bird declines?

The most recent figures are from the Mammal Society, which estimates that the UK’s cats catch up to 275 million prey items a year, of which 55 million are birds. This is the number of prey items that were known to have been caught; we don’t know how many more the cats caught, but didn’t bring home, or how many escaped but subsequently died.

The most frequently caught birds, according to the Mammal Society, are probably (in order) house sparrows, blue tits, blackbirds and starlings.

Despite the large numbers of birds killed, there is no scientific evidence that predation by cats in gardens is having any impact on bird populations UK-wide. This may be surprising, but many millions of birds die naturally every year, mainly through starvation, disease, or other forms of predation. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds. It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway from other causes before the next breeding season

Full article can be found here:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/gardening/unwantedvisitors/cats/birddeclines.aspx

[This comment has been edited to meet our guidelines – please try not to post whole articles and instead link to the original source. Thanks, mods]

Guest
deegeepee says:
2 October 2014

Hi Moderators, I am not quite sure why the relevant bits of this post have been removed “to fit in with the guidelines”, they are entirely relevant to the post, such as the following:

(in relation to bird species in gardens)
“Populations of species that are most abundant in gardens tend to be increasing, despite the presence of cats. Blue tits, for example, the second most frequently caught birds, have increased by over a quarter across the UK since 1966. Of the birds most frequently caught by cats in gardens, only two (house sparrow and starling) have shown declines in breeding population across a range of habitats during the last six years.”

Why would this very pertinent part of a post be removed? Is it for example, just to appease the dog lovers on the forum?

The same goes for the paragraph about the major species that have suffered the most decline in population

“Those bird species that have undergone the most serious population declines in the UK (such as skylarks, tree sparrows and corn buntings) rarely encounter cats, so cats cannot be causing their declines. Research shows that these declines are usually caused by habitat change or loss, particularly on farmland.”

Without these two very important parts of the argument presented, only a very small minority of the point in question is put across.

If the mods could say which part of the guidelines were breached, I will be interested to hear and take note from the feedback.

Guest

Hi deegeepee, thanks for your question and I can definitely clarify it for you.

We removed part of your comment because you copied a whole article from the RSPB website, and this could infringe their copyright. We’ve added a link through to the specific article (good tip for next time) and have cut it back to a few paragraphs so that people can click through to read the full article on RSPB.

In short, try not to post whole articles and instead post an extract and a link to the original source.

Thanks for getting involved in this convo, deegeepee. You’ve posted some interesting articles which are really adding to the debate.

Guest
deegeepee says:
2 October 2014

Ok, thanks for the clarification Alex, I will bear that in mind. I did mention the source, I thought I’d also included the link, as the RSPB has a wealth of information around this topic. Cheers.

Guest
Melissa S says:
3 October 2014

It is incredibly appalling that ‘nature organizations’ like the RSPB will protect the only animal they favor over every other organism, the domesticated cat. You citations read as looney as “despite the presence of pollution, species do not appear to be declining, so there is no reason to stop polluting”. I wouldn’t believe it for 1/100th of a second. No actual organization that cares about nature makes excuses for verminous invasive species to stay put. It just doesn’t happen.

It’s likely that the long history of cat predation that dooms the UK has destroyed the more fragile species, leaving only the extremely hardy birds (that cats ‘commonly’ catch because they’ve annihilated everything else) like house sparrows, that are highly invasive in my country. Your endangered fauna are doomed to remain in that state, forever.

[This comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Guest
deegeepee says:
3 October 2014

you have obviously done a lot of background checking on this. RSPB is actually the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. As the biggest UK nature conservation charity with a history going back to 1889, they focus on conserving the UK’s wildlife and restoring and protecting it’s natural habitats. They also work internationally in key areas to protect birds and other wildlife. saving and safeguarding species is at the heart of their work. the Rspb wad initially founded to country the barbarous trade off plumes in women’s hays which was a trade responsible for the inhumane killing of species such as egrets, birds of paradise and other species whose plumes had become fashionable in the late victories era. welcome back melissa2?

Guest
Melissa S says:
3 October 2014

-No- organization that is genuinely for the protection of animals suggests that we should keep a non-native predator roaming about, haplessly looking for evidence to claim ‘oh they don’t kill that many birds!’. Organizations that care about wildlife do not tolerate unnecessary destruction or poaching of wildlife because they found ‘no evidence’. I will speak out against this organization.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]

Guest

Hi Melissa, thanks for getting involved and adding to this debate, but please try not to stray from the commenting guidelines. You are more than welcome to post your views – critiquing organisations is fine, but please do not accuse them of lying.

We mentioned earlier in the thread that we’d like the issues to be discussed in a mature and constructive way – making comments both useful to you and others that read it. But you’re still ignoring our input so now we’re checking the comments before they’re approved. Oh and make sure to stick to one username (as per our T&Cs) so we all know who we’re debating with

Just a final comment for everyone in this thread – have a read of our guidelines – they’re there to help all of us 🙂