Around 1300 to 1500 years ago, lynx roamed the forests of the UK. They are a type of medium-sized wild cat and they were vital to the ecosystem of our country, hunting deer and rabbits. They lived here for around 10,000 years and were a major predator in the UK. Humans being humans however, the predators of predators, scientists speculate that the lynx were killed for their fur. Thus the British lynx was driven to extinction.
Today, moves are being made to reintroduce lynx back into Britain. The lynx, in a way ‘belongs’ in the UK, and without them our ecosystem has become unbalanced. You wouldn’t think it, but deer cause several million pounds worth of damage each year, by getting into gardens and eating the plants, stripping the bark from trees and ruining forests by preventing tree generation, and severely damaging farm crops, not to mention the number of road accidents caused by deer each year. Money is spent both privately and by the government on fences and anti-deer measures, for the approximately 2 million deer in the UK, more deer than at any time since the last Ice Age. Dr Paul Dolman, ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author, said: “We know deer are eating out the vegetation of important woodlands, including ancient woodlands. Deer are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration”. Culls have been proposed, with the idea of shooting half the population of deer each year, but the Lynx UK Trust are working towards more natural methods of controlling the number of deer in Britain.
The idea is to bring back the UK’s natural predators to bring things back into balance. The Eurasian lynx is closely related to the species that once lived here. They’re of a similar size and most importantly have a similar diet; the Eurasian lynx and the British lynx are practically the same species. Plans are to bring the lynx over from Eastern Europe, as researchers believe that they would be best adapted for British life. This may not mean having a cup of tea and watching Bake-Off, but rather that they would suit habitation in a new ecosystem. William Ripple, an expert ecologist in the matter of reintroduction of species, states “We have to make sure we’re returning an animal to its historic natural range, some place where it makes sense ecologically”. A detailed analysis of the areas they plan to release the lynx into would need to be done, especially as they would need to be put into forests away from houses and roads. Nevertheless, as fairly solitary and secluded animals the lynx would not pose much of a danger to humans or human life, and would be incredibly beneficial to our ecosystem.
This isn’t to say that there are no negative aspects to the reintroduction. Some say that a renewed lynx population wouldn’t reduce the deer population significantly enough to allow for tree regeneration. Some critics, such as James Kirkup of The Telegraph even speculate that the reintroduction of the lynx is not for the benefit of our ecosystem, but rather to make our wildlife more interesting. Furthermore, it is unknown whether or not the lynx themselves would pose a threat to farms, as they may attack sheep and other livestock.
Conservationists plan to have the lynx back in the wild by the end of 2015, but research is still being carried out into possible release sites. Once lynx are put into forests, they will be carefully monitored and assessed until a successful rehabilitation has been achieved.
Lynx UK have recently launched a survey to gather opinions on lynx reintroduction. Have your say and find out more about the project here: http://www.lynxuk.org/survey.html