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Eurasian Lynx Re-Introduction: Returning to the UK?

Posted on Mar 12, 2015 by Jonathan Willet

Are we on the brink of seeing a return of this apex predator to the British Isles?

Last weekend you may have seen various articles about a proposed trial re-introduction of the Lynx to two sites in England and one in Scotland, near Huntly. Four to six Lynx, with GPS tracking collars, would be released at each site to see how they behaved and interacted with the other wildlife in the area.

The Lynx UK Trust seem to be a very professional outfit and have some serious scientists on board and presumably a decent amount of resource. What is interesting is that they propose to do the introduction themselves, once they get a licence from the respective governments to do so and have already secured landowner agreement for the sites.

Eurasian Lynx Re-Introduction: Returning to the UK?

Eurasian Lynx (Photo by http://www.mindbox.at/gallery/)

So what are Lynx and what is the big deal about them?

Eurasian Lynx Re-Introduction: Returning to the UK?

Photo by Bernard Landgraf

Firstly the name is said to mean “light, brightness”, in reference to the luminescence of its reflective eyes. There are four Lynx species in the world, the Iberian, the Canadian, the Eurasian Lynx and the Bobcat. Lynx are the largest cat species in Europe, about the size of a small Labrador. Males weigh between 20-40kg and females’ weights range between 10-20kg. They have a short tail and ear tufts and big paws that act like snowshoes. They hunt mainly at dusk and dawn by stalking prey or by ambushing them. They primarily hunt Roe Deer but also Rabbits and hare and smaller rodents. They prefer dense forest cover as a habitat both as shelter and for hunting. Males will cover the territories of about 3 females, the female’s territory size depends on the density of prey there.

Why bring them back?

Lynx went extinct around 1000 years ago in the UK, probably due to lack of woodland cover, prey species and hunting. They persisted in continental Europe but between 1800 and 1960 there was a 48% decline in range. However in the last 50 years the Lynx has bounced back and its population has increased four fold. It now occupies 71% of its historical range in continental Europe. So good news! This has come about through protection, decline in hunting and increasing area of habitat. There are now around 8,000 Lynx in Europe and 50,000 in the world (mainly in Russia and China). A PhD that modelled the potential habitat for Lynx in Scotland estimated that there was enough suitable habitat for 400 Lynx in the Highlands and 50 in Southern Scotland, so potentially 5% of the European population could live here.

Eurasian Lynx Re-Introduction: Returning to the UK?

Lynx kitten (Photo by Bernard Landgraf)

What would their impact be?

Well, they would eat Roe Deer and reduce their density due to hunting and also the Roe Deer would smell the Lynx and stay away from forests, this would allow natural regeneration to occur due to a decline in browsing pressure. There is an expanding population of about 500,000 Roe Deer and they have no natural predators other than man at the moment. Lynx would be great for tourism even though you would never see them! They are very secretive so it is unlikely that they would be easily spotted, however just being there would give a unique selling point to an area. For example, this has happened in the Swiss-Saxony National Park in Germany where they have a two storey image of a Lynx at their visitor centre! But, what would the Lynx’s impact be on the Wildcat? This is an even rarer Felid and Lynx may kill Wildcat in their territory. They may also eat sheep and this is an issue in Scandinavia, however unlike there, our sheep tend to be kept in the open and not in woodland so this may not be an issue.

But the only way to find out the answers is to have a controlled, scientific reintroduction and make a decision based on its findings, which is what is being proposed. We shall have to wait and see if this gets the go ahead.

References:

Lynx UK Trust

Lynx in Wildlife Comeback p104

Scottish Lynx population modelling paper

What do you think? Would you like to see Eurasian Lynx Re-Introduction: Returning to the UK?

About the author

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Jonathan Willet

Jonathan has a wealth of experience in biodiversity, history and landscape. With degrees in zoology and ecology and 20+ years as a wildlife guide, his regular blogs are always packed full of informational gems.

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