THE prospect of big cats on the prowl in west Dorset will come under the spotlight in Bridport.

Expert Merrily Harpur, below, is giving a talk to the west Dorset group of the Dorset Wildlife Trust titled Big Cats - Wild in Dorset. She will be giving her findings in the illustrated talk at the United Church in East Street on Friday, February 5 at 7.30pm.

Merrily, who lives in Cattistock, has been studying the issue for many years and maintains an active website which records and reports sightings.

She also has two books to her credit on the subject, called Mystery Bug Cats and Roaring Dorset! Encounters with Big Cats. It comes as new figures obtained by the Dorset Echo show a total of 53 people have made emergency calls to report wild cat encounters since 2006.

The most recent sighting given to police came in February from a caller who claimed to have seen a big cat which was ‘totally black’ and ‘stocky’ with a ‘very long tail’ in Sherford, Wareham.

A month earlier someone called to report a sighting of a large cat which ‘looks like a panther’ in the Powerstock area near Bridport.

One caller claimed a ‘lioness’ was seen ‘lying in the grass’ in October 2008 in Sturminster Newton. While seven callers dialled to warn police after spotting a mysterious creature in the Weymouth area, three people reported sightings from Dorchester during the last five years.

Merrily said: “There have been a lot of big cat sightings reported in the county over the years.

“Dorset is a hot spot for big cat sightings. In the last couple of years I have been told of more than 300 sightings. One of the interesting things about big cats in Britain is that they are very variable in their colours.”

Merrily’s talk is open to all and is £2 for DWT members and £3 for visitors. Visit Merrily’s website at