The National Sheep Association (NSA), long-standing opponents of proposals to release wild lynx into the countryside, said that despite rumours that an application was set to be lodged, it believed that current legislation would not permit dangerous wild animals to be released.
And with MPs fully occupied with the Great Repeal Bill, any legislative changes were extremely unlikely in the short term.
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The NSA said it understood that the Eurasian lynx was classed as dangerous under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. This meant it would be a criminal offence to keep them without a local authority licence – and the NSA said that currently these were only available for zoo and captive animals, not for those being released into the wild.
“It is still not clear when the Lynx UK Trust will make an application for a release licence for lynx, but it has become clear there would need to be a change in legislation to keep such a release legal,” said NSA chief executive Phil Stocker.
“In my opinion, this is very unlikely to happen in the near future given the raft of priority legislative work needing to be done after the Great Repeal Bill.”
Stocker said that current law would also allow farmers to legally shoot lynx causing distress to animals.
NSA believed that advocates for release of lynx were working to get this law changed as well, in order to give protection to released lynx – meaning the only option for farmers whose livestock had been killed or injured by lynx would be to seek compensation from the trust.
“NSA is opposed to this as it is unlikely that compensation funding could be guaranteed in perpetuity,” said Stocker.
“Even if compensation were offered, it will not make sheep mortalities acceptable and, given the general public’s reaction to some of the harrowing images caused by domestic dog attacks and their expectation of high animal welfare, I cannot see how distressing attacks caused by a wild animal will be accepted.”
Stocker said he failed to see how the presence of lynx would add to the highly attractive countryside which was providing environmental, economic and social benefits.
“NSA has also secured confirmation that, irrespective of which side of the Border any release is planned for in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, any licence application to either Scottish Natural Heritage or Natural England will be considered jointly before any decision is made.”
He said the species had been absent from the UK for thousands of years, and the countryside was too fragmented and built up to support a viable population of lynx.