Our ecosystem desperately needs reintroductions like this; apex predators are critical for controlling species like deer which can overpopulate and cause serious damage to natural habitats.
The most ambitious and high profile rewinding project in the UK - with six lynx being reintroduced to Kielder for a five-year trial period - has received a boost. Landowners covering 700km2 of potential habitat for the medium-sized cats have now approved access.
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, and Natural England continue to consider the Lynx UK Trust licence application for a trial reintroduction of Eurasian lynx to Kielder Forest in Northumberland.
If the trial is successful, it could lead to a wider reintroduction of the lynx in other parts of the UK such as the Scottish Highlands.
Advocates expect the lynx would bring a range of benefits, helping to control and reduce the UK's over-populated deer numbers, reducing damage to forests and improving habitat for smaller animals in the process.
Expert analysis has also estimated a potential tourism value of tens of millions of pounds for the local rural economy, based on similar reintroduction projects in Europe.
Dr Paul O'Donoghue, the chief scientific advisor for the Lynx UK Trust, said: “I think this speaks volumes for the confidence in the trial reintroduction plan we've laid out, and the potential it has for improving the local ecosystem and expanding the local tourist economy. Literally every landowner we have approached has given permission.
“We've got an incredible team of ecologists, four wildlife vets and highly experienced reintroduction specialists ready to start work, with a combined 300 years of experience between them.
"This will be an exceptionally rigorous, scientifically-led reintroduction trial using cutting edge technology to monitor these cats in stunning detail. Everything is in place to deliver a world class project that will breathe life into Britain's dying forest ecosystems."
Wildwood Trust, has extensive experience in the conservation and reintroduction of protected species and managing large carnivores, as well as working closely with Government regulators, such as Natural England and DEFRA, developing conservation licensing systems for a range of threatened species such as water voles, dormice, red squirrels and European beaver. The Trust has recently joined the Lynx UK Trust reintroduction team.
Peter Smith, the director of Wildwood, said: “Our ecosystem desperately needs reintroductions like this; apex predators are critical for controlling species like deer which can overpopulate and cause serious damage to natural habitats.
“Lynx aren't the complete solution, but they're a keystone element in the construction of one. We're very happy to be making a big commitment of time, staff and resources to this project, and thoroughly believe the time is perfect for these shy animals to come back to the UK.”
Lynx have been successfully reintroduced in countries across Europe.
They have proven themselves to be of no threat to humans anywhere they live, and that they present a very limited threat to sheep farmers, with the average Eurasian lynx killing one sheep every two years.
Lynx UK Trust have already arranged insurance for every sheep in the UK against lynx attacks, backed by Lloyds Syndicate ARK Speciality Programs, a specialist division of Lloyds of London headed up by Richard Bryant
He said: "I hope this insurance cover will provide sound financial security for the Trust so they will be able to generously compensate farmers if any of their sheep are injured or killed.
"Having assessed all the science and research on lynx predation we’re very confident that sheep attacks will be rare, so if our support can help make a trial reintroduction practical it’s a great opportunity for us to do something really positive."
O'Donoghue added: "There's a perceived threat to sheep which has come largely from baseless National Sheep Association scaremongering, the union has avoided every opportunity to engage with the project and seem to have no interest in their members benefitting from the extensive opportunities a reintroduction could bring.
"Lloyds will insure their sheep, farmers will have an incredible opportunity to diversify their businesses and benefit from the increased tourism into the area, and we've laid out a range of investments we want to make into predation mitigation. These would reduce attacks by any predator, including foxes and dogs.
"There is literally no evidence that lynx will have any significant negative effect on sheep farming, quite the opposite. We can't let completely unsubstantiated rhetoric take priority over scientific evidence, economic evidence and incredible public support, and I'm hugely excited to see that all of the Kielder region's major landowners have now confirmed their approval for what we hope to do."
Marianne Brooker is a contributing editor for The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the Lynx UK Trust. For more information visit their website.