'Beast of Bruisyard' spotted minutes from Ed Sheeran's estate

Zac Askew's photo of a paw print discovered at a yard in East Soham 

Zac Askew's photo of a paw print discovered at a yard in East Soham - Credit: Zac Askew

We live in Big Cat country: both Norfolk and Suffolk are a magnet for mysterious beasts which have been spotted across both counties for decades.

A meadow in Bruisyard, the village where Joseph and his Brethren is set

A meadow in Bruisyard, the village where Joseph and his Brethren is set - Credit: citizenside.com

The latest sightings were in Bruisyard village, close to the bridge, where a witness saw: “…a huge pure black ‘cat’ bigger than a Rottweiler” which crossed past her car close to the village’s bridge.

She added: “I swear it was a panther!”

The Framlingham Community Page swiftly lit up with similar posts, with other witnesses adding their own cat sightings.

One wrote: “Still remember seeing one of these in the field behind our house growing up. It looked right at us and growled…You never forget it once you have seen one. The one I saw, I will never forget its eyes or the noise it made looking at us. It walked down to the end of the field and sniffed around a stack of haybales then disappeared.”

Someone else reported seeing a big cat on the Easton to Wickham road several years ago, while another shared that their partner had been walking dogs in the dark on a back road to Badingham when he spotted a “massive cat’s head” in the hedge.

Zac Askew's photo of paw prints found in an East Soham yard 

Zac Askew's photo of paw prints found in an East Soham yard - Credit: Zac Askew

Other visitors to the page reported sightings in Leiston, Cransford, Sweffling, Cratfield, and a photograph was taken of a large paw print at a yard in Earl Soham last weekend, while other sightings placed the creature close to singer Ed Sheeran’s 16-acre estate near Framlingham.

In 2016, student Eliot Evans reported a similar sighting in the area when he came face-to-face with a frighteningly large feline while out for an evening jog near his home in Wickham Market, around eight miles away.

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Then 16, Eliot explained how the creature was between four and five feet long, had far-apart eyes like a cat and started to make as if to chase him.

And on the brilliant Matt Salusbury’s website, he writes about a big cat sighting he was told about in Mells on the edge of Halesworth, close to the golf course.

He writes: “My witness had just got up and was in his garden, looking over nearby fields…It must have been around 7am.

“Suddenly, he saw in the field a black big cat. He described it as like a ‘muscular’ domestic cat, with the same proportions and the same pointed ears, only HUGE.

“It was so huge that it was carrying a hare in its mouth - not a rabbit, a hare. I've seen a hare up close to my own domestic cats when they were out walking near my house, and the hare (an adult male, I think) was bigger than my small tortoiseshell female cat.

“Our massive big black domestic cat had long teeth and ‘eyes like the Devil’, with which he looked at our witness. He was glad he only got a look at him for ‘seconds’, he told me, so disturbed was he by what he saw. After giving him a casual glance, the big cat sauntered off and disappeared among the crops.

In Suffolk, police were informed of panther or ‘mountain lion’-like cat sightings during the years that spanned 2016 to 2019 in Woodbridge, Bury St Edmunds, Eye, Colchester, Lowestoft, Ipswich and on the following roads: B1066, B1113, A1088, A1120 and the A1017.

The Lowestoft sighting on June 27, 2018 involved a “wild cat” attacking the informant.

But although Suffolk sightings are many and varied, it is Norfolk where sightings of large felines are most common.

The county boasts the UK record for big cat sightings with more people than anywhere else in the country reporting seeing cats as large as leopards, panthers and jaguars loping through the county's countryside, villages, towns and even the city centre of Norwich.

Across all districts of the county, large cats have been spotted for decades: in fields and on roads, in gardens and in woodland, at the coast, in parkland and even in someone’s garage.

Ranging in size from “larger than a muntjac deer” to “the bigger than an Alsatian” and the mind-boggling “the size of a moped”.

The Eastern Daily Press can chart big cat sightings back to 1965 when four men spotted a creature while shooting near Larling and in both 1993 and 1994 there were a cluster of so-called 'puma' sightings in south Norfolk.

Edingthorpe, near North WalshamShaun Baxter says he saw a large black cat / panther on sunday 5th Ap

Edingthorpe, near North WalshamShaun Baxter says he saw a large black cat / panther on sunday 5th AprilIt left claw marks on a nearby treeFor:EDPCopy:Vic Leggett - Credit: Colin Finch

In 2009 a man out shooting rabbits between North Walsham and Edingthorpe said he saw a big black panther-like cat and later found scratches 4ft high on a tree, near to where he spotted the animal.

And while Al Stewart claimed The Year of the Cat was in 1976 when he released an album of the same, in Norfolk, the year of the cat was most definitely 2011.

Across the county, the sightings of the legendary big cat of Norfolk were at an all-time high, as the creature was spotted in various locations around the county including Bayfield Hall, Burnham Market, Kelling Heath, Felbrigg Hall, Martham, Hemsby, Salthouse, Dereham, Worstead and Buxton.

In 2016, it was revealed that Norfolk Police had received the highest number of calls about big cat sightings of any force in the UK, followed by Suffolk.

Is this the Norfolk panther? Picture Lee Norton

Is this the Norfolk panther? Picture Lee Norton - Credit: Lee Norton

In August 2016, Lee Norton captured an image of a ‘Labrador-sized cat’ in Saxlingham Nethergate: “I had no idea what it was but it was the size of a Labrador but it had a very, very long tail,” he said.

From 2016 to 2019, big cat sightings were reported to the police in Cromer, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norwich, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth, North Walsham, on the A140, the A149, Downham Market and Diss in Norfolk.

Danny Bamping of The British Big Cats Society said the Framlingham sighting had been reported to the group and explained some of the reasons why big cat sightings may be so prolific in East Anglia.

“It’s a very rural part of the country and so offers a great environment for these animals,” he said. “Historically, a lot of people who owned exotic pets in the 1960s and 1970s owned large properties in rural areas such as Norfolk, Suffolk, Devon, Cornwall and West Wales and these are areas where many sightings are reported.

“I recently helped a National Geographic reporter work on a piece about big cat cubs being brought over to the UK by American airmen in the Second World War and then released into the wild after the end of the war.

“There’s evidence that mountain lions, bob cats and pumas were brought to Britain and, of course, there are lots of old air bases in East Anglia.”

Big cats were also available for sale in large London stores until the mid-1970s and when laws on ownership changed in 1976, owners were forced to give their pets to zoos or have them put to sleep.

Some owners simply released their animals into the wild and Danny believes many of the sightings reported today are the offspring of these escapees.

Danny pointed to a host of evidence about the large creatures, including the shooting of a Northern Lynx near Beccles in 1991: the big cat had killed 15 sheep in two weeks and was shot by a gamekeeper before being sold to a local game keeper who had it stuffed and sold to a well-known Norfolk figure.

Cougar growling displaying teeth. Photographed in Minnesota USA.

Norfolk has some of the most reports of big cat sightings in the UK - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

He added that large cats that had been spotted, caught or discovered dead in the UK included pumas, cougars, lynx, jungle cats, caracals and British wild cats.

The Dartmoor-based Society’s aim is to scientifically identify, quantify, catalogue and protect the big cats that freely roam the British countryside and members liaise with police, DEFRA and wildlife organisations when necessary.

Danny added that people should not feel concerned about encounters with big cats: “We are far more threatening to the cats than they are to us,” he said, “if you see a big cat, just keep still, take your phone out and take pictures and video!”

The ability of big cats to interbreed and create hybrid species (such as the Liger, a cross between a tiger and a lion) leads Danny to believe that many sightings could be entirely new breeds. He believes many sightings in the UK to be genuine, including the most recent in Suffolk.

Sightings can be reported to the Society on its website at britishbigcats.org.