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Are there any big cats in the UK countryside?

As another sighting is recorded in a Hampshire village, Yahoo UK looks back at similar incidents to assess how likely it is that 'big cats' are roaming the UK countryside.

Pictures of alleged big cat sighting in Dartmoor, near Fernworthy Reservoir taken on Sunday August 27. See SWNS story SWTPcat, A walker is adamant he spotted a big cat roaming on Dartmoor - and says he has the picture to prove it.
A walker took a picture of what he believes was a big cat in Dartmoor. (SWNS)

A Hampshire village is the latest location for a sighting of a "big cat", spotted by a former Sky Sports presenter.

Actress Charlotte Jackson Coleman, 45, was walking her dog in the village of Easton, just outside Winchester, when she saw the animal on Sunday.

Jackson Coleman, who has appeared in TV show Silent Witness, said she saw the feline from a distance, but described it as “quite large”.

She told the Southern Daily Echo: “The pattern and colour of the coat was not like one I had seen on a cat before.

“As we got closer, I realised how much bigger it was than other cats – and it had no collar.”

Jackson Coleman said she put her dog on the lead as soon as she spotted the cat, which “didn’t seem frightened”.

She said the animal ran into the bush before she could capture a long video of it.

The sighting comes after a walker took a photograph of what he says is a big cat roaming Dartmoor, Devon.

Pictures of alleged big cat sighting in Dartmoor, near Fernworthy Reservoir taken on Sunday August 27. See SWNS story SWTPcat, A walker is adamant he spotted a big cat roaming on Dartmoor - and says he has the picture to prove it.
A walker took this picture near Fernworthy Reservoir in Dartmoor. (SWNS)

Jon, who is in his 30s and did not want to give his full name, said he spotted the animal in the moorland on a recent trip with his family.

In his photo, the big cat is seen along a path between two rows of grass. He said he and his family quickly fled the scene.

Jon said they stumbled upon a half-eaten deer carcass on the way back to their car.

He described the moment he took the photograph.

"Whatever it was, my concern was that I didn't want it to come towards us," he said.

“When I first saw it, I stopped straight away and told my family, 'Don’t panic and stay where you are. I think there's a big cat or dog up ahead’.

“It just felt a bit surreal and quite strange that my first thought was 'big cat'.

“I managed to get my phone out and got a picture just in my hand before it walked along a bit and ran into the woods.

"It had a huge tail, which must have been a metre long with some white on the end.”

The family were walking to Fernworthy Reservoir when they encountered the animal.

Last month, documentary makers discovered what they claimed was the "clearest ever" photo of a big cat prowling the British countryside.

Documentary makers have discovered what they claim is the 'clearest ever' photo of a big cat prowling the British countryside. (SWNS)
Documentary makers have discovered what they claim is the 'clearest ever' photo of a big cat prowling the British countryside. (SWNS)
The photo was accompanied by a handwritten note dated 17 March but it is unclear in which year it was taken. (SWNS)
The photo was accompanied by a handwritten note dated 17 March but it is unclear in which year it was taken. (SWNS)

The picture, which shows a large muscular panther-like creature lying in long grass, was found in the files of a zoology organisation.

Experts say if the image is genuine it is "probably the best photo of a British big cat that exists".

The photo, which is said to have been taken in Smallthorne, Staffordshire, was accompanied by a handwritten note dated 17 March – but it is unclear is which year it was taken.

The image is featured as one of several potential pieces of evidence supporting the existence of such cats in the British countryside and forms part of a new award-winning documentary, Panthera Britannia Declassified, released on Amazon Prime by Dragonfly Films.

Read more: Are there big cats in the UK? Worries panther ‘discovery’ could lure hunters

The picture was unearthed by the assistant director of a centre for zoology when he was working in their archives.

He said: "The photo is unambiguous, it is clearly a large cat of the Panthera genus, and it’s so clear we can even see its whiskers.

"The photo was attached to a mysterious handwritten letter, which includes a date without the year, isn’t signed with a full name, and doesn’t have the sender’s address.

Read more: Are there wild big cats in the UK? See the dangerous wild animals that live near you

"But it does state the photo was taken and if it’s genuine, then it’s the probably the best photo of a British big cat that exists."

Tim Whittard, producer of Panthera Britannia Declassified, said: "This astonishing lost photograph and amazing new scientific discovery form only a fraction of the collective evidence on display in the film.

"The documentary is predominantly data driven. We used real science and real experts, and tried to be as objective and analytical as possible."

Read more: Father and son flee Welsh beach barbecue after 'spotting puma' in second recent reported sighting

Images of big cats are often found to be poor quality of misleading - leading people to think ordinary-sized animals are bigger than they are. (SWNS)
Images of big cats are often found to be poor quality of misleading - leading people to think ordinary-sized animals are bigger than they are. (SWNS)

He said big cats could be legally owned without a licence in the UK until 1976 and were often seen as status symbols, but when laws around exotic animal ownership changed many were released into the countryside, meaning some animals spotted today are the "offspring of abandoned pets".

The photo is not the first time big cats have been spotted in the wild – but many images are of poor quality and unverified.

Some can seem bigger than they are due to lenses or distortion, such as one alleged black panther filmed on railway lines near Helensburgh in Argyll in 2009 which was later showed to be a normal domestic cat.

Read more: Big cat 'discovery' in UK could inspire trophy hunter killings, expert fears

A wave of "black beast" sightings were reported during the late 1990s, including famous cases in Herefordshire such as the "Woolhope Wildcat" in 1994 and numerous reports of the "Herefordshire Phantom Feline", also known as "Big Puss", from 1996 to 2000.

A photo of an alleged big cat taken in July 2016 in Gloucestershire was compared in news reports with a photo of a fox in the same location, but was later confirmed again to be the size of a domestic cat, while out-of-focus footage of an animal identified as a lynx reported in November 2016 was also found to be an ordinary cat.

In May 2022 a big cat was spotted by a father and son as they set up a barbecue on the beach at Pwllheli on the Lyn Peninsula, in north west Wales – the second reported sighting within 12 months.

Watch: 'Big cat' sighting in the UK: Real mystery or fake felines?