Latest SBS Research paper published - Cats and Their Owners
Researchers identify five types of cat owner
Cat owners fall into five categories in terms of their attitudes to their pets’ roaming and hunting, according to a new study.
University of Exeter researchers surveyed UK cat owners and found they ranged from "conscientious caretakers" concerned about cats’ impact on wildlife and feel some responsibility, to "freedom defenders" who opposed restrictions on cat behaviour all together.
"Concerned protectors" focussed on cat safety, "tolerant guardians" disliked their cats hunting but tended to accept it, and "laissez-faire landlords" were largely unaware of any issues around cats roaming and hunting.
Conservation organisations have long been concerned about the numbers of animals caught by the UK’s large population of domestic cats.
Most pet cats kill very few wild animals, if any, but with a population of around 10 million cats, the numbers of birds, small mammals and reptiles taken, can accumulate.
Apart from their role as ‘mousers’, most owners find the dead animals brought home an unpleasant reminder of their pet’s wilder side.
Addressing this problem has been difficult because of disagreements between people prioritising cat welfare and those focusing on wildlife conservation.
The Exeter team’s ongoing research project ‘Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife’ aims to find a conservation win-win, by identifying ways of owners managing their cats that benefit the cats as well as reducing wildlife killing.
This research is a step towards understanding how cat owners view their cats and how best to manage them.
The researchers say their findings demonstrate the need for diverse management strategies that reflect the differing perspectives of cat owners.
"Although we found a range of views, most UK cat owners valued outdoor access for their cats and opposed the idea of keeping them inside to prevent hunting," said lead author, Dr Sarah Crowley, of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute in Cornwall.
“Cat confinement policies are therefore unlikely to find support among owners in the UK.
“However, only one of the owner types viewed hunting as a positive, suggesting the rest might be interested in reducing it by some means.”
"To be most effective, efforts to reduce hunting must be compatible with owners' diverse circumstances."
Suggested measures to reduce hunting success include fitting cats with brightly coloured “BirdsBeSafe” collar covers.
Many owners also fit their cats with bells.
The research team are now examining the effectiveness of these and other new measures and how owners feel about them, with a view to offering different solutions.
“This latest research we have funded reveals the incredibly diverse perspectives amongst cat owners in regard to their pets’ hunting behaviour,” said Tom Streeter, Chairman of SongBird Survival.
“If nature is to ‘win’ and endangered species thrive, a pragmatic approach is needed whereby cat owners’ views are considered as part of wider conservation strategies.
“The study highlights the urgent need for cat owners and conservationists to work together to find tailored solutions that are cheap, easy to implement, and have a positive effect on wildlife and bird populations across the UK.”
iCatCare’s Head of Cat Advocacy, Dr Sarah Ellis, said: “The finding that many UK cat owners actually care a great deal about wildlife conservation and their cats’ impact on it, suggests that some owners are receptive to employing cat friendly ways of reducing hunting.
“The right interventions could improve wildlife conservation efforts, maintain good cat mental-wellbeing, and, at the same time improve the cat-human relationship.
“This would be especially true for ‘Tolerant Guardians’ and ‘Conscientious Caretakers’, by reducing the internal conflict of loving an animal that often hunts other animals they also care about.”
The study included 56 cat owners, some from rural parts of the UK (mostly in south-west England) and some from urban areas (Bristol and Manchester).
The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, is entitled: "Diverse perspectives of cat owners indicate barriers to and opportunities for managing cat predation of wildlife."
Alongside the detailed research survey, the researchers have created a simple quiz so cat owners can find out which category bests describes them: https://wildlifescience.org/catquiz/
The full paper is available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2254
About the study
The University of Exeter’s "Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife" project aims to work with cat owners to identify effective, practical means of reducing cat predation on wildlife, without compromising, and potentially enhancing, cat welfare. More details at: https://wildlifescience.org/catproject2019/
The project’s advisory group comprises independent experts in feline health and behaviour, and representation from International Cat Care and the RSPCA.
SongBird Survival, the project sponsor, is an independent, UK-wide bird charity that funds research into the decline of Britain’s songbirds. More details at: https://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/
Available for interview:
1. Dr Sarah Crowley, Environmental Social Scientist in the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus. Dr Crowley is the lead researcher of the ‘Cats, Cat Owners and Wildlife’ project, and lead author of this paper ‘Diverse perspectives of cat owners indicate barriers to and opportunities for managing cat predation of wildlife’.
2. Professor Robbie McDonald is the project lead of the “Cats, cat owners and wildlife” project and head of the Wildlife Science Group at Exeter University. He is Professor of Natural Environment at the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
3. Tom Streeter is the Chair of SongBird Survival, an independent, UK-wide bird charity that funds research into the alarming decline in Britain's songbirds (50% in 50 years).
4. Dr Sarah Ellis is Head of Cat Advocacy at International Cat Care (iCatCare). https://icatcare.org/
For further information, including interview opportunities, please contact:-
Curious PR - Hannah Kapff at Curious PR Hannah@CuriousPR.com T +44 (0)20 3397 9111 M +44 (0)7747 794306
SBS Featured in CountryLife
Your Charity featured in this week's Country Life magazine
Tom Streeter, SBS Chairman had a chat with Kate Green about SBS and why we do what we do.
I'm no ornithologist, but I've done just about everything else in the British Countryside. I adore my SBS role now and hope we can deliver and make a difference. I felt before that we were slightly treading water, although we had a lot of knowledge, and we are a very open and honest charity that's not afraid of the uncomfortable truths if they save songbirds.
My 10 year old daughter said "Daddy, you've got to save songbirds!" so that swung it
Fostering enthusiasm for birdwatching in primary schools is one of SBS's priorities. "If you can engage five, six, seven year olds with feeding birds, it will stay with them for life," maintains Mr Streeter.
Someone asked "Why do we need songbirds and the dawn chorus?" and my daughter answered "It's Nature's Voice" - If there's an audible noise, then all is well. If it's not there, something is wrong.
Tom cites as a hindrance to biodiversity recovery the stand-o between some farmers and landowners with wildlife bodies and 'silly things happening', including the hanging of dead crows on BBC presenter Chris Packham's gate after Natural England's General License fiasco last year. "The polarisation that has taken o is causing stagnation", he observes. "Let's deal with the facts. We should all be working together, even if we're in different coloured shirts."
Read the full 6-page spread, including more of Tom's amazing photography in your Country Life magazine (January 22, 2020 issue)
SBS Partners with Songbird Watch
New SBS Partnership
We are so pleased to announce that the wonderful J T Seeds from Cambridgeshire have set up Songbird Watch
Formed in order to increase and protect the numbers of wild songbirds in the UK by optimising their nutrition, according to their needs, and giving everyone the opportunity to feed the very best nutritionally correct food that will keep our beautiful songbirds healthy and happy.
Not only do JT farm with the highest environmental methods, but they also produce the most wonderful foods to help our song and other small birds (as well as hedgehogs and other wildlife too!)
This is great news for wildlife - but especially for songbirds. Not only is JT and Songbird Watch helping wildlife where they are they are also contributing to SongBird Survival's research fund!
Every sale of their wonderful robin and songbird mix raises a donation for SBS!