Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

'Big cat' print found on farmland

Print photographed by Mr Ward
Mr Wards says he found the print near the frightened cattle

A national big cat group has said it is confident the animals are roaming wild in Derbyshire after the discovery of a paw print on farmland.

Wirksworth farmer Peter Ward said he found the three-inch print after his cattle had been frightened last month.

Nigel Spencer, from Big Cats in Britain, said: "It could be a small puma or black leopard or even a lynx."

A Defra spokesman said: "Any sightings of exotic wild animals can be reported to Natural England or the police."

He added: "Based on evidence we do not believe there are breeding populations of big cats living in the wild in England."

Mr Spencer said his group did believe 'big cats' had previously been released into the wild and could be breeding in the area.

He said: "We've been researching these big cat sightings in the East Midlands since the early 1990s.

Trampled gate
The farmer says cattle trampled down the gate after being spooked

"We're trying to build up a picture of how many there are and what they're doing.

"Either people are releasing these animals or they are interacting and breeding."

Mr Ward, said the print looked identical to photographs of puma paw prints he found on the internet.

"The first thing I saw was a gate flattened down where my stock had been frightened out of the yard.

"When I found them they'd gone across the road into another field... I found them in the bottom corner cowering.

"I had a walk down the lane which leads to the field and I came across this big paw print.

"I looked closely at it, I thought that's not a dog and it began to dawn on me that it must be a big cat."

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