An elusive predator that hasn’t been seen in Britain since it was hunted to extinction in Anglo-Saxon times could be reintroduced to British woodlands by the end of this year. An application for a trial reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx is due to be submitted in the coming weeks by the Lynx Trust UK, a conservationist group advocating the return of the wildcat after a 1,300 absence from the British landscape. The application follows a two-year consultation with local stakeholders during which the Kielder Forest on the Scottish border was selected as the preferred location for the reintroduction to take place. If the application is given the green light the Trust plan to import six lynx, two males and four females, from Sweden for a five-year trial period. The project has met with stiff opposition from local farmers groups who fear their livestock will be threatened by the large, stealthy cats.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Dr Paul Donoghue, chief scientific advisor to the Lynx UK Trust and expert adviser to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said that the farmer’s fears while understandable are unfounded. “You will never see a lynx running across an open field chasing down prey – they can’t do it. They are the epitome of a forest specialist – their coat is dappled, said O’ Donoghue. European trials have shown that lynx’s kill only one sheep every two and half years compared to the millions that die from malnutrition, disease and exposure every year in Britain. The Lynx would also benefit the environment by preying on roe deer whose population has exploded without a natural predator resulting in overgrazing and deforestation, O’ Donoghue said.
The reintroduction of the lynx to the UK forms part of the broader rewilding movement which aims to restore biodiversity that has been lost as a result of centuries of agricultural and industrial development. Similar projects in recent years have seen beavers reintroduced to Scotland and England after a three-hundred-year absence as well as a number of bird species such as ospreys, eagle owls and great bustards.