Lynx in the UK
This is an historic moment for UK ecology. By the end of 2017 we could see lynx return to the UK for the first time in 1300 years. Lynx UK Trust has just submitted their application to Natural England, the government’s advisory body for ecology in England.
Lynx UK has requested that six Eurasian Lynx be brought from Sweden and released into Kielder Forest in Northumberland. With 250 square miles of land, 75% of it covered with trees, it is the largest man made forest in the UK. This year has already seen Kielder start to release 700 endangered water voles into the area, and their conservation efforts with osprey have proved popular with tourists.
The trust has spent the past year collecting data and winning local approval for the scheme. Though it has not been easy to convince farmers who fear for their livestock, there has been support among local schools and businesses. The Angler’s Arms pub in Morpeth, near Kielder, have championed the cause, displaying a life-sized lynx over their public bar.
If the proposal is accepted Kielder forest would be unique among the UK's eco-tourism destinations. Paul O’Donoghue, the chief scientific advisor on the Lynx project has said Kielder forest could become known as ‘the Kingdom of the Lynx’, bringing all kinds of economic benefits to an historically depressed area. This is in addition to the ecological benefit: effective control of roe deer, whose growing numbers are a barrier to forest regeneration and biodiversity. At present roe deer numbers have doubled from sustainable levels and Kielder Forest is at risk of disappearing altogether.
The National Farmers' Union, Northumberland branch does not support the proposal, neither does the Northumberland Wildlife Trust; the latter would rather see the reintroduction of lynx as a ‘long term’ project, while the next few years should be given over to other priorities such as consolidating vole populations in the forest.
The National Sheep Association claims the UK is not a suitable site, and will never support the idea of reintroduction of any apex species this side of the North Sea.
The local MP Guy Opperman thinks the idea is ‘crazy’. He claims that 90% of the 400 local people he canvassed were opposed. The Lynx Trust, however, who ran events, presentations and consultations throughout the previous year found a groundswell of support from locals, especially business owners, who could see the positive economic impact, and most felt the Lynx UK Trust gave a balanced view. According to a poll run by the online newspaper, Chroniclelive which serves the North East, to date 81% of its readers are in favour of lynx, with 19% against.
The reintroduction of lynx in Switzerland and Germany have both been huge successes, claims the Lynx Trust. The Hartz Mountains National Park in Germany has seen the gradual return of lynx over the past two decades with no ill effects. In Switzerland, where 70 lynx reside, farmers have found them to be the least dangerous of the apex species, never killing more than 0.2 – 0.4% of livestock, even in years of low deer populations. Wolves are more of a problem there. Still, 30 years after lynx reintroduction, their presence remains controversial. Some areas are more negatively affected than others. To offset this problem, the Swiss Government allows farmers to shoot any livestock-hungry lynx, and compensation is paid for loss of livestock.
Sweden has encountered a larger problem with apex predators killing and worrying sheep. It is alleged in the Scottish Herald that Sweden’s population of Lynx have helped to kill almost 20,000 lambs in 2014 alone, along with bears, wolves and wolverines. What proportion of lambs were actually killed by Lynx is not clear. The Farmers Union and National Sheep Association are listening to the warnings of Swedish farmers and don’t see how lynx can be successfully introduced into the UK at a sustainable level (250 is considered sustainable for a lynx population), without a massive negative impact on livestock. They consider a modest six lynx to be the thin end of the wedge.
The proposal is for the six animals, 2 males and 4 females, to be released for five years in what Lynx UK Trust's consultation document calls a ‘highly regulated scientific trial’, each one having a collar fitted with a tracking device so their movements can be closely monitored. Lynx tend to mark a territory of around 20 square meters then stay within its boundaries and defend it. Where food or females are scarce males will wander but, as O’Donoghue says, it is out of character to see a lynx running around in open pasture land: they like to stay hidden in the forest. The farmers seem yet to be convinced of that.
Do you think the Lynx UK Trust are right to introduce these animals now? Have your say in the comments below.