BBC presenter Chris Packham says 'there are too many cats in the UK'.

Chris Parsons

Springwatch presenter Chris Packham has called for a change in attitude towards the nation's domestic cats after research claimed felines are one of the biggest threats to US wildlife.

The Nature Communications study claimed cats in America kill up to 3.7billion birds and 20.7billion mammals annually, making them more dangerous to wildlife than poison, pesticides and traffic accidents.

As the debate between cat owners and environmentalists intensified today, TV presenter Chris Packham told Yahoo! News he believes there are 'too many cats in the UK'.

He also blamed 'irresponsible' pet owners who have cats 'as a habit' without having them neutered.

The conservationist said cats should be kept indoors and given collars to reduce their impact on the number of birds and small mammals in this country.

He estimated cats currently account for 60million songbird deaths and 210million animal and bird deaths in Britain a year, which is 'exacting a demanding pressure on Britain's wildlife'.

To combat the effect our feline friends are having on UK wildlife, Packham told Yahoo! there are three ways of reducing attacks on birds and small animals.

Keeping cats in at night, giving them specific collars and bells, and making more efforts to keep their numbers down should all be prioritised, according to the BBC presenter.

Packham insists he 'isn't a cat-hater' and sees them as 'beautiful animals and wonderfully evolved predators', but says the problem 'is with the keepers'.

He told Yahoo! News: "Most people would agree that if you're taking 60million songbirds out a year from one source, that's 60million deaths you don't need.

"When it comes to cats it's relatively easy to reduce that total.

"I don't dislike cats, despite the reputation I have - it's not the animal's fault.

"Cats can end up in the hands of people who keep them out of habit, and don't always look after them.

"If there are fewer cats there is less of an impact on wildlife.

"We've known for a long time that this is an issue, and the American study is saying something we've all been expecting."

Although Packham states that there are 'too many cats in the UK', their numbers actually appear to be in a slow decline as domestic pets.

A study in 2010 estimated there were over 10million owned cats in the UK. That number has since shrunk to 8million, with dogs overtaking them as the nation's favourite pet.

One in five UK households still have 'at least one cat' however, according to research last year.

Packham says that part of the problem is that cat owners do not neuter their pets - whether due to cost (between £40 and £60 per cat), or pet owners 'not being responsible'.

He says that keeping cats in at night would reduce predation rates on birds and animals by 50%, while giving cats collars would take the number down by 45%.

The effect of these 'relatively easy' measures could save tens of millions of birds and small mammals each year, Packham says.

He added: "Cats can end up in the hands of people who keep them out of habit, and don't always look after them.

"If there are fewer cats there is less of an impact on wildlife.

"Everyone who says cats are doing what comes naturally should think about the fact that cats are at the top of the food chain in every neighbourhood.

"If there was one in every neighbourhood this wouldn't be a problem, but there is one in every house, and there is a huge imbalance because of this.

"If there were 50 lions in a neighbourhood they would end up eating all the people and there would be noone left in the neighbourhood. I think that's a fair comparison."

Cat Protection say there are 'no reliable research about the effects of their hunting habits on declining numbers of birds and small mammals', although they recognise that cats are 'naturally predatory animals.'

They largely agree with Packham's suggested thoughts on collars, keeping cats indoors and neutering, and like the BBC presenter, suggest pet owners should value their garden more.

They believe bird feed should be left on bird tables in gardens, rather than on the ground, and added that the trapping, neutering and releasing of feral cats might also keep their numbers in check.