Environment

'Sufficient appetite' to explore reintroduction of lynx to Scotland

Lynx reintroduction in Scotland could be a step closer as a new study suggests people are open to the idea.

A European Lynx sitting in the snow

Lynx have spread across Europe following successful reintroductions. Image: scotlandbigpicture.com

There is “sufficient appetite” in Scotland for exploring lynx reintroduction, according to the first detailed study into the social feasibility of the species’ return. 

The research, commissioned by the Lynx to Scotland project, found a broad consensus among communities, farmers and other stakeholders for taking the next steps towards reintroduction.

The study has recommended setting up a Lynx Action Group to explore whether current concerns around reintroduction can be overcome.

Lynx, a species of wild cat, were last recorded in Britain around 1,300 years ago before going extinct due to hunting and habitat loss. They are known as a type of “keystone” species, meaning they maintain balance and diversity in an ecosystem, with the wider environment suffering damage in their absence. 

Over the past few years, lynx have spread across continental Europe following successful reintroductions, but similar projects are yet to get going in the UK.

Previous research suggests the Scottish Highlands are the most feasible location for lynx reintroduction, with enough land to support a population of around 400 animals.

Rewilding and lynx charities say, however, that the main barrier to reintroduction is people’s attitudes towards the species, with farmers particularly concerned about the threat posed to their sheep. 

The latest research, led by charities Scotland: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust, spent a year consulting a range of different stakeholders and local communities in the Cairngorms National Park and Argyll.

This included farmers, gamekeepers, foresters, conservationists, landowners, tourism operators and rural communities.

The study found a general consensus for further exploration of the benefits and drawbacks of lynx reintroduction as well as an “overall willingness” to engage in discussions across a range of different sectors. 

Peter Cairns, executive director at Scotland: The Big Picture said: “When it comes to the return of the lynx, we’re in the realm of not yet – but not never. 

“Positively, this new research shows there is sufficient appetite amongst different stakeholders to develop a more comprehensive understanding of this little-known species and the potential for its return to Scotland.”

The study has recommended that any Lynx Action Group should “build trust” between stakeholders and address some of the “real and reasonable concerns” of those likely to be affected by reintroduction.

Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s chief executive, said “properly assessing and listening to all views” will be key in determining whether lynx eventually can be returned to Scotland. 

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