britain and the reintroduction of the eurasian lynx : why now is the time to bring them back.
elusive. secretive. mystical. the eurasian lynx is europe's largest wildcat and was once a native species of the ancient british wilderness.
now, more than ever, is the time to bring them back.
since being hunted to extinction in the uk, the absence of lynx has caused deer populations to boom and has destroyed the balance of the british woodland ecosystem.
with no natural predators, deer herds are overgrazing forest floors and have lead to the stripped and barron landscapes now commonly associated with upland areas of scotland and northern england.
reintroducing the eurasian lynx will not only help to sustainably control deer populations, but also force the deer to behave naturally once they know a predator is in their habitat.
quite simply, the deer are much less likely to stay in the same part of the forest for weeks on end when they know predators are nearby.
instead, they will constantly be on the move; behaving as they would have done in ancient britain, and will give the forest floor a chance to regenerate.
amazingly, when wolves were reintroduced into yellowstone national park, the height of some cottonwood trees quintrupled in the space of six years - all due to the presence of wolves and the subsequent change in behaviour in deer populations.
despite this, undoubtedly the most impressive result of reintroducing natural predators is the impact they can have on rivers.
in yellowstone for example, the reintroduction of wolves resulted in more trees with stronger root systems. this drastically reduced soil erosion and changed the flow of rivers in the region - restoring them to their natural state and increasing the quality and abundance of wetland habitats.
the ecological benefits of reintroducing lynx back into the uk are clear and their potential to change the way we treat our wild spaces are not to be underestimated.
just imagine yourself walking through a forest in england or scotland knowing that lynx are hunting in the same area as you.
how would you react? would you let your dog roam free? would you make loud noises?
in the history of mankind there have been no recordings of a healthy lynx attacking a human - they’re simply too shy and actively avoid people who enter their habitat.
nevertheless, their presence would certainly make people think twice about the way they behave in the outdoors and a generation of children growing up with lynx in their local woodland would certainly have a new-found respect for the nation’s wilderness.
what’s more, the act of reintroducing a large predator into britain could pave the way for a generation of radical (and much needed) regeneration projects.
with beavers already proving their immense value to british woodlands, the reintroduction of predators - such as eurasian lynx - is a natural next step.
alongside the ecological benefits of reintroducing lynx, the socio-economic benefits could also be huge - especially for rural communities whose economies are heavily dependant on the tourism sector.
as seen in the reintroduction of sea eagles into western scotland, the reintroduction of a flagship species can be a major boost to local tourism and can easily become an effective marketing campaign for local tourism in isolated regions of the country.
the reintroduction of a high-profile predator such as the eurasian lynx, which poses no threat to humans, would undoubtedly generate significant tourism interest for many parts of the country.
the educational opportunities, key to the future protection of wild britain, would also be plentiful.
understandibly, reintroducing a large predator to the uk after an absence of 700 hundred years comes with it’s complications.
first of all, it would be an understatement to say that our land-use has changed since medieval times.
one of the largest arguments against reintroducing lynx into the uk is their impact on farm livestock.
farmers across the country have voiced their concern about the prospect of wild lynx inhabiting the forests surrounding their sheep herds.
despite this, studies of lynx reintroduction in mainland europe have shown that, on average, a reintroduced lynx kills one sheep every 2 and a half years.
that’s an average of 0.4 sheep every 12 months.
in fact, studies of lynx in switzerland suggest a net benefit to farmers due to foxes being a natural prey of the lynx.
the presence of lynx in the region caused a reduction in the number of foxes. in turn, the number of lambs being taken by foxes in spring dropped.
furthermore, the german government has pledged to reimburse the value of every sheep killed by a reintroduced lynx, effectively neutralising any financial losses suffered by farmers.
although it is important to consider the concerns of farmers and the livestock industry, evidence suggests reintroducing lynx could very well benefit their herds - and consequently their financial interests.
in an age where the demand for meat is decreasing, we must remember that we were the ones who removed the lynx from our island in the first place and our woodland ecosystems have paid the price as a result.
surely our forest ecosystems are more valuable than the 0.4 sheep lost each year?