Is Scotland ready for the return of the lynx?
Across mainland Europe, the Eurasian lynx is staging a comeback. Freed from the pressures of unsustainable hunting and benefiting from a softening of public attitudes, this enigmatic feline has been successfully reintroduced into several countries and is now gaining in number and expanding its range.
The lynx is native to Britain but was driven to extinction some 500-1000 years ago through hunting and habitat loss. Ecological research has shown that extensive areas of Scotland could support lynx, but the greater challenge of returning this shy and elusive animal, is less about ecology and more about people’s willingness to live alongside a species that’s become forgotten on these shores.
Lynx to Scotland is a year-long, impartial study to assess people’s views about the possible reintroduction of lynx to the Scottish Highlands. The study is being launched this month by a partnership of charities: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and the Vincent Wildlife Trust.
Lynx cannot and should not be forced upon the people of Scotland, but it is also important to have an open discussion recognising that, against the backdrop of a global biodiversity crisis, there is an opportunity to bring back not just a charismatic native species, but the missing ecological processes that it would restore.
As a shy and solitary woodland hunter, lynx are rarely glimpsed and attacks on humans are virtually unknown. Research suggests the Highlands has sufficient habitat – and more than enough roe deer, the cat’s preferred prey – to support around 400 wild lynx. Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and regeneration of our natural woodlands. By preying on roe deer, lynx would provide an efficient deer management service by restoring a predator-prey dynamic that has been missing for centuries.
Lynx to Scotland will actively seek to include a wide range of stakeholders representing the full range of perspectives, in order to produce meaningful conclusions about the level of support or tolerance for lynx, and therefore, the likely success of any future reintroduction. The project will also identify any barriers that exist and explore how they might be addressed in a way that gives confidence and builds trust between all the groups involved.
Lynx to Scotland runs from January 2021 to February 2022 and is not associated with any other previous or current initiatives to restore lynx to Britain.*
For details, see scotlandbigpicture.com/lynx-to-scotland.
(*This blog is written by an independent writer. Beaver Trust welcomes a breadth of opinions, and those expressed within this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Beaver Trust.)
Executive Director, SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.
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© Peter Cairns 2021.