It has dusky fur to keep it hidden in the trees, sharp claws to keep it high in the branches and a rumbling growl that could raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It could stalk you for miles if it wanted and – when it pounces – its strong jaws could bring down an adult deer. The idea of bringing Eurasian lynxes back in the wild is a provocative one to say the least.
‘But they have an exemplary record of extremely low livestock predation,’ says a spokesperson for campaign group Lynx UK Trust, ‘and no recorded incidents of attacks on humans by any healthy wild lynx in all of recorded history.’
This week, Lynx UK Trust headed talks discussing the details of a Eurasian lynx reintroduction scheme. 20 stakeholder groups, including landowners, farmers and conservationists, came together for what the Trust described as an historic meeting. Ian Convery, Associate Professor of Conservation at the University of Cumbria and consultation advisor for the Trust says, ‘it is the first time a large number of stakeholders have come together to discuss an actual reintroduction of this wild cat to the UK, with a trial that would be extensively monitored by scientists.’
A proposed site for a pilot release of ten individuals is hoped to be revealed next month, with forests shortlisted in Aberdeenshire and Northumberland. ‘That’s when it gets really exciting,’ says Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Trust. ‘We will get to talk with the people who would actually be living alongside these amazing animals.’
The Eurasian lynx’s preferred diet of roe deer makes it the ideal species for the rewilding movement, which vies for the reintroduction of apex predators in order to control herbivore populations and reinvigorate ecosystems. At about the size of a labrador, the Eurasian lynx is ambitious when it comes to hunting. It can tackle an animal many times its own size and is the only lynx species that eats more deer than it does rodents or rabbits. However, the same characteristics bring strong opposition from farming unions who understandably fear for the loss to their livestock.
Scottish Crofting Federation chair, Fiona Mandeville, has said ‘the most threatened species in the Highlands is the hill sheep and any threat to their viability must be resisted.’
According to the Trust, consultation and dialogue will continue with concerned stakeholder groups throughout the summer.