Scotland would be able to support a population of at least 400 wild lynx but the predators would also be likely to target farmers’ sheep, according to research by a leading ecologist.
In a new book examining the pros and cons of reintroducing lynx to Scotland, Dr David Hetherington says the animals could thrive in the remote forests of the Highlands.
Lynx have been absent from Scotland for more than 400 years due to deforestation and hunting, but since the 1970s several other European countries have reintroduced the species.
Dr Hetherington’s book, entitled The Lynx and Us, argues that a new lynx population in Scotland would bring “tangible benefits” including natural deer control and tourism opportunities.
It claims there would be little significant impact on threatened species such as wildcats and capercaillie, with the predators more likely to hunt and kill foxes instead.
It also says that by preying on woodland deer, which currently lack natural predators, a lynx population could reduce their damaging impact on forestry and other wildlife.
“Reintroducing lynx would be a milestone for British nature conservation. By preying on roe deer, they could play a vital role in maintaining healthy woodlands,” Dr Hetherington said.
“But the lynx’s return could bring challenges too, so a respectful dialogue with those who live and work in the countryside is essential before any reintroduction could ever happen.”
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is strongly opposed to the reintroduction of lynx. The organisation’s vice president Martin Kennedy said some members had recently gone on an information-gathering trip to Norway, which has wild lynx. It was made clear to us by farmers there that the effects of losing livestock to regular lynx attacks is devastating, both financially and emotionally,” he said.
“It’s all very well receiving compensation, but that doesn’t allow for the psychological impact that this scale of losses has on farmers.
“Losing sheep on a regular basis to brutal lynx attacks would take its toll any farmer and is the reason many farmers in Norway are giving up the industry.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added that it had “no plans” to reintroduce lynx to Scotland.
“Any applications to release large carnivores either in or near Scotland would be very carefully scrutinised and we would ensure that the views of all those who would be likely to be affected were properly taken into account,” she added.