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Could wild lynx make a return to Scotland's forests?

The debate continues over controversial proposals to reintroduce the predator to Scottish woodland.

Conservation groups are continuing their call to see Eurasian Lynx reintroduced to Scotland.

Moves to bring the carnivores into the Kielder Forest were rejected by the UK Government last year.

But the Lynx UK Trust say the animals could help restore the health of our natural ecosystems.

"The lynx is a native species to the UK, it's as native as a red squirrel, or a badger or an otter," said Paul O'Donoghue, from the Lynx UK Trust.

"We killed every last one of them here 1300 years ago and apart from anything else there is a moral duty to bring these animals back into the wild."

'We killed every last one of them here 1300 years ago and apart from anything else there is a moral duty to bring these animals back into the wild.'
Paul O'Donoghue, from the Lynx UK Trust

The trust is proposing a five-year trial to put a small number of lynx back into three different sites across Scotland to monitor their impact.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has also backed the proposal in theory - provided there is both a moral and ecological case for doing so.

Scotland's farmers, however, say any return of the big cats would be an "unmitigated disaster" for their livestock.

Appin farmer David Colthart.
Appin farmer David Colthart. Appin farmer David Colthart.

"It would just be a disaster if these animals were released into the wilds of Scotland," said Appin farmer David Colthart.

"We know the effects from when sea eagles were reintroduced and lynx, an apex predator, will probably do a huge amount of damage."

Lynx are primarily believed to hunt roe deer but research is still needed into whether or not their hunting behaviours might change towards livestock.

Gary Curran, head carnivore keeper at Five Sisters Zoo in West Lothian has some experience of the big cats' behaviour from caring for the zoo's own two lynx.

'It would just be a disaster if these animals were released into the wilds of Scotland.'
David Colthart, Appin farmer

"Lynx are generally quite timid, certainly very elusive. They're not very active during the day, more at dusk and dawn and the chance of seeing a wild lynx are slim to none."

Researchers from Stirling University have managed to provide valuable insights towards to the reintroduction debate, by using state-of-the-art tools to help identify the best places to support wild lynx.

PhD researcher Tom Ovenden undertook a study investigating the suitability of three proposed release sites: Kielder Forest in the Scottish Borders, Aberdeenshire and the Kintyre Peninsula.

His results, released over the last few weeks, show that Kintyre would offer an 83 per cent chance of the animal population persisting in 100 years.

Read the full report here

He used a variety of data - including the demographic and dispersal characteristics of the lynx elsewhere in Europe.

The modelling showed reintroducing just 10 lynx to the area could see their population expand to 150 over the next century, with the animals "occupying over half of the number of available woodland habitat patches in mainland Scotland".

"What we found was that no matter how we chose to measure success, the Kintyre peninsula always came out as the most suitable location from those that we tested," said Mr Ovenden.

The research results do not recommend whether we should, or should not, reintroduce lynx. But they are encouraging and importantly, could help develop further modelling around the reintroduction of predators.

"Ultimately you could have all the landscape in the world amenable to reintroduction but if people don't want to see it or if there are serious concerns that can't be addressed, then we shouldn't proceed," added Mr Ovenden.

"What we hope we've contributed here is some evidence towards informing a constructive debate about whether we should introduce lynx to Scotland or not."

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