A wildlife expert has not ruled out the existence of big cats in the area.

This follows dozens of reported sightings of big cats in the wild in Reading and surrounding areas, with motorists reporting seeing feline shapes in the hedgerows and fields next to the M4.

Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Reading, Dr Manuela González-Suárez said: "It is possible that somebody had a big cat as a pet and that that animal might have escaped.

"I can imagine that such an animal would not last very long in this environment, partly due to it not being able to hunt enough food to maintain itself.

"A lot of big cats - ones that people are describing - panther-like and more tropical species, it is not the best weather for these animals.

"Sometimes people do keep pets illegally, so they may have had a big animal escape that they didn't report and this animal may be roaming around for a while."

In July 2022, a man reported seeing a sandy-coloured feline shape, resembling a Lynx running across the road.

Another driver said they saw a light brown "big cat" with spots while someone else said it was a "large Labrador-sized black cat".

READ MORE: Big cat sightings in Berkshire leave motorists startled

Dr González-Suárez continued: "What people are describing - one like a black panther and one with spots - would suggest it's two different animals.

"The chance of two big animals escaping is fairly unlikely.

"It is possible that due to visibility being reduced animals and shapes could appear different."

The professor added: "If they have escaped from a collection they are probably not quite a wild animal so they have probably become used to the presence of humans - so they might be more willing to approach developed areas - such as a highway, buildings or people.

"I don't think an animal could last on its own without being clearly identified and tracked down in an area like Berkshire for very long."

However, if there is a "big cat" out there and you happen to come across it, it is important to slowly back away and find shelter, whether in a vehicle or building.

The police should then be called, who will know to notify relevant parties who can ensure the animal is safely taken back into care.

"Don't spend time taking photos," said Dr González-Suárez. 

"Get away calmly and stand tall, make sure the animal can see you are also potentially threatening.

"Get any small children or pets off the ground. If a dog reacts to attack, let it go.

"Do not get between the animals."

Have you seen the 'Beast of Berkshire'? We'd like to hear your stories. Send any sightings to daisy.waites@newsquest.co.uk