The week after Frankfurt was technically a ‘week-off’ from the Churchill Fellowship, due to the length of the funding (3 weeks for this leg) and the availability of the people I wanted to meet with (some only at the start of June, others only at the end …). So we took the opportunity to explore wildcat habitats outwith the locations of my meetings, and to see and experience as much of Germany as possible (including the thermal spas, more about this below).
My brief time in Freiburg, and the train journey north to Frankfurt, had already begun to confirm some of my suspicions about size and scale of potential ‘wildcat habitat’ in southern and central Germany (where wildcats are found). The quality and quantity of forest habitat has become a recurring theme for Alice and I, both in the discussions we have with local experts, and in the endless discussions between ourselves!
Quality and quantity of forest habitat
The photos below are from the Taunus Mountain region, just north of Frankfurt. The area we visited was just outside Wiesbaden, and is described as a ‘Nature Park’ (which is like a woodland used in part for leisure/recreation, not the same as a ‘National Park’). Within minutes, you are submerged in a dense deciduous forest with oak, beech, alder, and sycamore (to name but a few), mixed with mature thinned spruce (some of which was being harvested). The woodland structure is diverse in terms of species maturity, density, size and under-storey.
The profusion of prey
Another fundamental wildcat requirement is a diverse and abundant prey base. While walking in the Taunus park, we were stunned by the profusion of small mammals living in the woodland. I have never walked through a woodland in Scotland and watched voles frolicking in the sun, but in Germany this has happened in every woodland habitat we have visited so far. At one point, we could see ten voles sitting on the bank in front of us. We could hear mice running through the leaf litter. We watched families of passerine birds moving across the forest floor. None of these fast little fellows are particularly easy to photograph, but I did manage a quick video of one of the voles (blink and you will miss him).
And finally . . . a spa interlude (inter-nude)
This cartoon sums it up. It did help improve my lower back pain.