A ‘BIG cat’ has been caught on camera prowling the grounds of a country estate near North Petherton.

Tom Baker captured the animal on his camera phone towards the end of his shift as night porter at Maunsel House in North Newton.

A second sighting was confirmed after Tom’s work colleague, Ashley Gainard, spotted a cat-like creature through the range finder of his air rifle a week later, also during the early hours of the morning.

The sightings came just over a week after dead foxes, chickens and a badger were found nearby.

Tom, 25, who had been putting rubbish out at the time, said: “I saw something about 150 metres away and didn't know if it was a deer, but it looked strange.

“I zoomed in and took the images. The photos certainly look like it’s a big cat and I have no other explanation for it.”

Sir Benjamin Slade, the owner of the 13th century estate, said the ‘Beast of North Newton’ has been spotted before, but this is the first time there is any evidence.

Houseman Ashley, 28, was out shooting vermin when he saw a creature about 200 yards away from him.

He said: “I saw it walking among the grass, which is quite high, so I could tell it was a big animal.

“I have had a similar experience before. I’ve seen piecing green eyes in the night that were intense and not like any animal I’ve seen before.”

Sir Benjamin, 66, said: “Some of my chickens have been devoured. We used to be inundated with foxes, but they’ve disappeared lately.

“A lot of people have seen the cat - it’s been around for years.”

The aristocrat is calling for marksmen to shoot the animal to protect his livestock.

He said: “The police are still doing a risk assessment - they are worried these possible ‘panthers’ are protected under EU directives.”

There is a long-held hypothesis that big cats being were imported as part of private collections or by zoos, later escaping or being set free.

Danny Bamping, founder of the British Big Cats Society, said it was impossible to tell what the image showed.

“Like most pictures of big cats in Britain, it is inconclusive because there is no sense of scale and it is blurry,” he said.

He noted there have been a “substantial” number of reported sightings of big cats in Somerset in the past year.