How would you feel about big cats roaming the British countryside, and we don’t don’t mean overweight pets! If you adore cats then it is quite an exciting thought. Of course, there have been many reports of lone big cats being spotted across the country. Some of these animals undoubtedly exist and are probably escapees from private collections and zoos. However, they do not represent a permanent population. But big cats could be about to return to the wild in Britain!
The Eurasian Lynx
The lynx became extinct in Britain some 1300 years ago. Now, the Lynx UK Trust has submitted an application to Natural England to carry out a trial reintroduction of six Eurasian lynx in the Kielder Forest region of Northumberland. This is the first time that an application has ever been made in the UK for this species or any other apex predator.
A team of experts have spent a year planning the proposed introduction by consulting with the relevant national bodies and local communities and then exploring potential release sites. The findings have been submitted to Natural England.
Whilst the proposed release would take place in England, the lynx could cross the border into Scotland and so Scottish Natural Heritage is also being kept fully informed of all details of the application.
If permission is granted, four female and two male lynx will be reintroduced to the Kielder Forest for a five year period. They will wear satellite collars so their movements can be monitored. Following a detailed study of the animals, a decision will be made as to whether there should be a full reintroduction of Lynx to Britain.
The reintroduction of lynx would represent an incredible milestone in conservation. It would be the first return of an extinct predator and the lynx could prove to be a key species for the ecosystem. There may also be economic benefits as tourists would travel to the Kielder Forest in the hope of seeing the cats.
But why are lynx potentially so beneficial for the ecosystem?
Sustainable Deer Control
Lynx could help control Britain’s population of more than one million wild deer, which currently lack natural predators. The deer damage woodland by overgrazing and eat the eggs of birds that nest on the ground or in low bushes. The lynx could provide a sustainable means of controlling deer populations.
British farmers are far from keen on the idea of lynx roaming the countryside. They fear that the cats could attack and kill livestock. But in other countries where the lynx has been reintroduced, such attacks have been rare. A compensation scheme could also be established to ensure that farmers do not suffer financially should any attacks occur.
Great Idea or Showboating?
The idea of wild lynx in Britain is certainly an exciting one and there is no doubt that the cats could offer benefits for the countryside. But some observers have suggested that the move to reintroduce these animals is not motivated by concerns for the environment but rather by a fascination with exotic species and a desire to sex up the British landscape. It has to be said that there has been less enthusiasm shown for re-introducing the insect species which have disappeared from our countryside.