Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Big cats on BBC Radio Suffolk

Update (01/02/15) The show is no longer available on the BBC i-player. Jon Wright promised to let me have some audio clips from the programme, which I'll link from this site as and when I've got them. Much of the material from the programme will be in Mystery Animals of Suffolk, due out late Spring.

You have less than three weeks to listen to me on the I-player talking about big cats in Suffolk on Jon Walsh's New Year's Day show on BBC Radio Suffolk.

The programme is here (UK only, I'm afraid).

Fast forward through the first 41.00 minutes of banter, cryptic clues and travel news.

There then follows music with a "cat theme" (The Cure's Love Cats, The Eye of the Tiger, etc. etc.) You may, if you wish, pause briefly at 34.51 while Jon Walsh makes gentle fun of my big cat investigator's headgear, which is all over by 36.16.

The actual serious chat about big cats, recorded on Dunwich Heath National Trust reserve in December, doesn't start till 41.00 and is over by around 52.00 (timings not exact, sorry!) We chose Dunwich Heath because it's near my home, and also because the area was the location of several sightings - one by a member of staff at the reserve - of a black big cat around 2008, all of which I describe in the interview. As I point out on air, Dunwich Heath's mix of wetlands, reedbeds and dunes is, apparently, the favoured habitat of Britain's big cats - "big cat country."

At 01.09.36 hours the serious stuff about big cats in Suffolk resumes, including some more recent West Suffolk sightings, until around 01.16.20

At 01.38.40 hours into the show, the big cats in Suffolk theme starts again with witness testimony.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust warden Matt Gooch (I'd talked to him on the phone before) phones in with his account of a January 2011 encounter in the snow with a "big black cat-like creature that loped off in the marshes" near Oulton Dyke, which connects Oulton Broad (near Lowestoft) with the River Waveney, in the Beccles Marshes nature reserve. Matt added that a neighbouring landowner said he saw a big cat (Matt told me earlier the landowner didn't want to be named) and that a letter from the Broads Authority had come round earlier stating that a visitor said they'd seen a big cat.

Matt's testimony is finished by 01.56.00.

Next up is Stanley, a former RSPCA inspector based at South Godson near Ipswich in the 1960s, who described a "glut" of lion cubs kept as pets, whose owners sought advice about vaccinating them. Most of these ended up in local wildlife parks. Stanley also said a friend of his had seen "a very large" black cat near Dedham (a very short distance over the Essex border), and that as an RSPCA inspector he'd had to trap many feral and "semi-feral cats", which were generally "slightly bigger" than domestic cats.

Stanley's finished by 02.07.00, and a couple of minutes after that is my appeal for more information on big cats in Suffolk, especially form Mid-Suffolk, Babeargh, West Suffolk, and also for fairy and Black Shuck anecdotes. No ghosts please, except animal ghosts.

At 02.14.12 David in Bury St Edmunds says he's seen four big cats over the years, including one in Barham (near Thetford) while delivering as a UPS driver, and another jumping over Culford School gates in West Stow, which he saw while working as a taxi driver. As a security guard at Fornham All Saints Golf Club, with a German shepherd dog he saw yet another big cat.

Then (at 02.57.00) Charlie Haylock recounts how "eighteen years ago" (around 1996, the beginning of the first big wave of Suffolk sightings), he saw a black cat, a "big'un" a very short distance away from his car ("We were a couple of feet from each other") when he was driving from Stonham Aspall to Debenham. He reported it to the police station at Debenham. Two police officers went out in a car to investigate.

Then an email is read out from Mark Frost, who saw a shiny big black cat while "combining" (working in a combine harvester) in a field at Hemley near Waldringfield. Mark radioed his colleague, who told him he'd seen it 45 minutes earlier field signs were found - a pawprint, scratch marks and a poo that smelt "like nothing else." Msrk's testimony is over by 03.00.00 on the dot. He adds that a neighbouring landowner reported a calf killed by something big.

Finally, at 03.13.21, Kevin Wood from Woodbridge emailed to say he'd seen "a large black cat that looked at him" at about 5am on Hatcheston Road, one day around 1990 5am, before it "bounded away." Another time, Mark saw "a dead one" (a dead big cat) by the road, the body had been removed when he returned (Kevin's testimony finished at 03.13.54).

It'll all be in Mystery Animals of Suffolk, out in late Spring, from CFZ Press. Meanwhile, updates are here or more info via mysteryanimalsofsuffolk@gn.apc.org