VIDEO: Is this footage proof of a panther prowling the Lancashire countryside?

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A man from Eccleston near Chorley claims to have caught a 'big cat' on camera as it prowled around the Lancashire countryside.

Nick Spink, from Eccleston, said he spotted the giant cat slinking around fields close to his home on Saturday, February 16.

He said the creature was "easily over 4 ft" in length and had an unmistakable swagger.

The sighting follows a surge in reports of big cats in fields around Chorley and Leyland in recent weeks.

In Nick's footage a large black cat casually stalks prey under the cover of darkness.

Remarkably, it is not the first time Nick has come face-to-face with the predator.

He said: "I've seen this one a couple of times. The piece of stone it walks towards is just over 52 inches, so I'd say the cat was similar in length.

"I'd head to tip of tail. I'm not saying it's definitely not a domestic cat, but I'm certain it's living totally wild and it is unusually big."

This time, Nick was prepared. Equipped with camera and fish fingers, Nick creeped as close as he could to the beast and started filming.

But he has decided not to reveal the exact spot where he encountered the big cat for fear that it will be hunted.

He said: "I think this cat is living happily without any contact with humans. I've never seen it during the day and neither has any of the people local to where I've seen it.

"I think it's best left to its own devices. It's obviously doing the right thing as far as hunting and finding food.

"I'm not so sure if it's the right idea to give the exact location away. I just don't want it to become another trophy to a hunter."

READ MORE: The mystery of the ‘Preston Puma’

Since Nick's footage emerged, black panther fever has gripped the area.

The discovery of mysterious paw prints (pictured) in woods beside the River Yarrow has puzzled dog walkers.

Believers in the Lancashire big cat theory claim that the prints, equivalent to a human size 9, have feline characteristics.

Sceptics agree that the prints might well belong to an elusive predator...but of a less-toothy kind.

According to them, the prints belong to Britain's biggest land predator - the badger.

READ MORE: 'Panther' spotted on the streets of Lancashire

Is the Preston Panther fur-real? Or just a tall tail?

People have suggested that the footage is compelling evidence for the existence of the fabled 'Preston Panther'.

Lancashire's very own 'Big Cat' legend gained notoriety in 2009 after Joe Rutlidge, from Bamber Bridge, reported seeing "a really big, black cat" at the top of Cinnamon Hill, near Walton-le-Dale.

The startled 23-year-old said the creature could "only be described as a panther" because "no domestic cats are that big".

Other sightings followed with one eyewitness claiming to have seen two large black cats at the corner of Gib Lane in Hoghton in 2010.

Recent reports include sightings of big cats around Croston, Heskin and Smithy Brow.

A woman from Wrightington, who does not wish to be named, said she spotted a "large, puma-like cat" while walking her dog along Smithy Brow on Tuesday, February 12.

She said: "I've heard about the Heskin panther before but never took much interest in it because I don't believe in things like that.

"But I was walking along Smithy Brow with my collie when I saw a large black cat cutting across the field.

"It moved like a panther hunting its prey. It seemed bigger than my dog, about the size of a large Labrador, so maybe about four feet long?

"It knew I was watching it because it stopped and stared right at me.

"It was nearly dark so it was a bit unnerving and our collie sensed there was something in the field, even though he couldn't see anything over the hedge.

"My first thought was to take a picture but I was walking in the road, with my dog in one hand, so it was difficult.

"I watched it for a couple of minutes before I lost sight of it behind a hedge.

"I'm not saying it was a puma or anything like that, but it was a big cat. Big enough to make me stop in my tracks."

The 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act made it illegal to keep big cats as pets and may have led to some being released by owners.

Lancashire Post has contacted the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to find out if any big cats are licensed in the area.