The missing lynx – reintroduction to Britain

The campaign for the reintroduction of lynx to the Britain has been gradually gathering momentum. In particular, the Lynx UK Trust is actively involved. They are currently in ongoing talks with statutory agencies around the UK regarding licensing for their reintroduction, and are carrying out research to find the sub-species of lynx most closely related to the extinct British form and the best sites for release locations.

A lynx is a type of medium-sized cat that tends to hunt at night and is rarely seen by humans. It has a short body, tufted ears and large feet which helps it move through snow. In the winter, their coat is long and dense and tends to be greyer than their typically reddish or brownish colouring in the summer. Some individuals have very visible black spots that merge into narrow stripes, but some have hardly any spots at all.

Eurasian lynx in forest

The largest of the four lynx species is the Eurasian lynx – the one that used to be native to Britain. It has one of the widest ranges of the world’s cat species and is found in the forests of western Europe, Russia and central Asia. This lynx is about 80 to 130cm in length (head and body), measuring up to 70cm in height at the shoulder, and is the third largest predator in Europe after the brown bear and grey wolf. In comparison, our native red fox grows up to 46 to 86cm in length (head and body). Therefore, a small Eurasian lynx is about the same size as a large fox.

Initially, the Lynx UK Trust would like to reintroduce just two breeding pairs of lynx as a trial, into a remote area of Scotland which is heavily forested. These lynx would have collars that could be tracked by GPS and would contain a dose of sedative that can be remotely injected into the animal if it strays into an area where it may pose as a threat to livestock or is at risk from major roads.

It cannot be guaranteed that livestock would not be targeted at all by lynx, but their solitary and secretive nature makes it very unlikely that they would predate on agricultural animals. Their natural diet includes deer and rabbit, two very abundant animals within British forests whose populations have dramatically expanded due to a lack of predators. The return of the lynx should balance these populations and reduce habitat destruction caused by deer and rabbit.

The last of the British lynx disappeared a long time ago, around the year 500. However, the reasons for their disappearance are most likely habitat destruction and persecution by humans. The killing of lynx for their fur was a particular threat. If it wasn’t for us, these animals would probably still be roaming our land today.

According to Lynx UK Trust, the reintroduction of lynx into other European countries has been very successful. The best managed programmes have created new eco-friendly industries such as wildlife tourism, giving new economic life to remote areas. Therefore, there could be both an economic and environmental gain made from reintroducing lynx to Britain.

Overall, there are many benefits from reintroducing lynx; however it cannot be ignored that there are also potential disadvantages. Even though lynx do not pose a threat to humans directly, they can occasionally take small domesticated stock such as sheep. If the reintroduction goes ahead, conservationists and the government will need to bear this in mind by limiting the distribution of lynx or offering fair compensation to farmers who lose stock. Whether they are reintroduced to Britain or not, we can certainly recognise them as beautiful creatures.

See Eurasian lynx videos, news and facts.

Lynx UK Trust, (2014), Home, [online], available at: http://www.lynxuk.org/index.html Accessed 5 August 2014.

Lynx UK Trust, (2014), Lynx, [online], available at: http://www.lynxuk.org/lynx.html Accessed 5 August 2014.

National Geographic, (2014), Red fox, [online], available at: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/red-fox/ Accessed 5 August 2014.

Scottish Wildlife Trust, (2014), Lynx, [online], available at: http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/visit/wildlife/l/lynx/ Accessed 5 August 2014.

Telegraph, (2013), Wild lynx to be brought back to British countryside, [online], available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/10080527/Wild-lynx-to-be-brought-back-to-British-countryside.html Accessed 5 August 2014.

Trees for life, (2014), [online], available at: http://treesforlife.org.uk/forest/species/lynx.html Accessed 5 August 2014.

Photo sourced from Wikimedia Commons: Taken May 2011 by Raghith: The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is a medium-sized cat native to European and Siberian forests, where it is one of the predators.

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Kate Dey

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  1. Dave Blake Dave Blake says:

    Having the lynx back inBritain is something that I would love to see, but the problems should not be under estimated. Lynx predate domestic livestock when that livestock is in their foraging area. In Germany and Poland, sheep are grazed in paddocks and I understand that they suffer little or no predation. Indeed, dairy farmers in Biebrza Marches on Poland live alongside wolves without suffering any attacks at all. However, in Norway, lynx predate sheep and calves regularly because they animals are grazing within birch woodland, a habitat shared with roe deer; the lynx’s main prey. So if your domestic livestock is in the same habitat as the roe, then you are in trouble. Our highland landscapes are full of sheep and roe in woodlands and especially on the open hill.
    My fear about any introduction would be that it would be dogged by constant claims for compensation and then inevitably the rather ridiculous and painful removal of animals as they stray towards areas where we cannot tolerate their predatory impact.
    My last point on this has always been: why Scotland? Prey densities are very much higher in southern England and the impact on livestock would probably be much less. Why not consider Thetford Forest, which is disappearing under a tide of muntjac, or the Hampshire / Surrey heaths and forests which teem with rabbits, roe, muntjac and fallow? Most of the agricultural land is down to arable or has been converted “horticulture”, so clashes with sheep and cattle would be less and more easily managed than on the open hill.

    • Kate Dey says:

      Thank you for your comment Dave. You’ve raised some really interesting and valid points. You’re right, it would be sad to see lynx having to be removed if they cause trouble. I can’t say I know why Scotland has been chosen for the trial – perhaps due to political reasons. Let’s hope all factors are analysed carefully before a decision is made.

  2. Like so many articles on the subject you give scant coverage to potential very serious disadvantages which include the danger of loosing yet more rare species by introducing more predators. eg capercaillie in Scottish woods.

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