Farming News - Lynx reintroduction application to be submitted this summer

Lynx reintroduction application to be submitted this summer

06 Jul 2017
Frontdesk / Livestock

On Thursday, the Lynx UK Trust announced that it will be making an application for a five-year trial reintroduction of Lynx in the Kielder Forest, which covers parts of Northumbria and the Scottish Borders. Following speculation around an “imminent” application earlier this week by the National Sheep Association (NSA), which has opposed the Trust’s rewilding plans, Lynx UK Trust said it will be submitting an application to Natural England within the next two months.

The Trust issued an open letter to residents of the region, where consultation and public meetings have been ongoing for 11 months. Consultation on the plans has now finished, and the Trust thanked all those who had contributed.

Lynx are medium-sized felids, which grow up to 1.5 metres long. Once common in Europe, they have disappeared from much of their former range, and the last lynx in the UK died around the year 700. An increase in attention to studies showing the benefits that ‘rewilding’ and the return of apex predators can have for habitats has sparked debates about returning lynx to the UK in recent years. The cats have returned to former habitats in Central and South-Eastern Europe, though populations in those areas remain small.

Farm groups have vehemently opposed reintroduction proposals in the UK, arguing that lynx would prey on sheep and that the countryside has changed too much in the thousand years that lynx have been absent to support healthy populations today.

On Monday, the NSA suggested that the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 and preoccupation with Brexit could stand in the way of lynx reintroduction plans in Britain. NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said current UK law would allow farmers to shoot lynx they believe to be distressing their sheep, and that any legislative changes he believes would be necessary for a trial release to go ahead are “Very unlikely to happen in the near future given the raft of priority legislative work needing to be done after the Great Repeal Bill.”

Lynx UK Trust maintains that lynx have extremely low levels of livestock predation and that there has never been a single recorded lynx attack on a human. The Trust said on Thursday that “Eurasian lynx reintroduction has proven exceptionally low-conflict and wonderfully beneficial for the local communities” in other areas where they have been reintroduced.

Having earmarked several potential trial sites, the Lynx Trust announced that it would focus its efforts on Kielder last year. Informing local residents of the intention to submit an application to Natural England this week, the Trust said “This process can be quite open-ended and it's entirely possible they may ask for further information from us on certain aspects of the proposed trial, though we are delivering a thorough set of documents representing the views of the local community, national stakeholders, and the current sum of relevant scientific understanding.”

The National Sheep Association was offered a position on the Trust’s Project Advisory Group last year but turned this down, saying the offer was “Inappropriate,” though Natural England said “We encourage views on the project to be made to the UK Lynx Trust, to be included in their public consultation,” ahead of the Trust’s announcement.   
Earlier this week, Natural England said, “It is our statutory duty to assess any application against the relevant legislation, government policy and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations. Before issuing any licence we will consider aspects such as the impact on biodiversity and socio-economic interests; the likely success of the project in its conservation objectives; the balance of public support; a suitable exit strategy; and disease and animal welfare.

“Upon the receipt on any application for a reintroduction of lynx to England, we plan to invite views on the application to be submitted to us online.”
In the letter to the local community, the Trust said, “As we wait on feedback from Natural England, we're excited to be looking towards the potential of a next phase to the project, and introducing you to the team who would take it forward, and we're very much hoping for that team to work with local and regional groups and educational organisations, involving them closely in studying the trial. Although this is the end of the consultation on the application, it will be just the start of an ongoing process of continually listening to opinion from the local community and acting upon it; a trial reintroduction can only be successful with broad support across the local community the lynx live alongside, and we know there are many differing perspectives amongst you which are all critical to hear.”

The Trust said it will make a further announcement when it formally submits the application  for a trial reintroduction.

When approached for comment, the NSA said there had been no change to the Association’s position since Monday.