BIG cat expert Merrily Harpur has savaged Government claims that sightings are complete fiction.

She hit back after a Natural England report stated that it was very unlikely that such big cats as pumas were at large in the English countryside.

It comes after sightings at Upwey and Puddletown earlier this year and after a lamb was attacked in a suspected attack by a large cat at Bockhampton.

Author and expert Merrily Harpur, of Cattistock, said: “They are completely ignorant of the subject.

“They only have to go to the Big Cats in Britain website.

“It is absolutely fantastic and has thousands of sightings in the archive which anybody can access.

“They can glance at the reports there but I suppose they have better things to do.”

She added: “It is very stupid of them to release this report.

“The regrettable thing is that if it puts people off coming forward with their sightings it will be a great shame.”

Mrs Harpur has written books about national and local sightings, including Roaring Dorset! Encounters With Big Cats.

The Natural England report says the agency collated alleged sightings over 10 years although the most recent Dorset sightings are not included.

It has investigated where necessary but is confident that there are no breeding populations of big cats.

It states: “From time to time we receive occasional reports from members of the public of alleged big cats. However, none of the sightings of the big cats has ever been confirmed and the evidence of all the sightings we have been asked to look at have either been inconclusive or attributed to other causes.”

Mrs Harpur added: “The most unfortunate thing about the report is that it rubbishes the testimony of witnesses.

“We in the west country are countryside people.

“Many sightings are by country people who know very well what they are looking at.”

Anyone who has seen a big cat can report it to Mrs Harpur on 01300 320064.

County's close encounters

In February, residents at Upwey said that they had seen a black ‘puma-shaped’ animal in fields – and in January a lamb was savaged at Bockhampton.

Afterwards a vet confirmed the injuries were more consistent with an attack by a cat and unlike those caused by dogs, foxes or badgers.

Then a ‘very large, jet black panther-like cat’ was seen by Stratton resident Julian Foster near Poundbury.

A dog walker also reported seeing a large black cat in Puddletown.