An emotive campaign to release wild cats into UK forests has failed to abide by many of the basic principles that govern species reintroduction.
That was the claim by the National Farmers Union for Scotland in reaction to an ‘overwhelming’ level of public support backing a bid by the Lynx UK Trust to set wild cats free.
A recent trust survey, supported by Cumbria University, revealed 91% of 9,000 people asked would back a trial reintroduction of wild lynx to the UK.
It also said around 84% of respondents support such a move being carried out before the end of the year.
The trust’s chief scientific adviser Dr Paul O’Donoghue said: “We’ve been blown away by the level of interest and support from the public.
“The UK public have spoken people overwhelmingly want these animals to be given the chance to come back and we’ve got an extremely capable team to deliver it.”
It would now like to release up to 24 wild cats on estates in Aberdeenshire, Cumbria, Norfolk and Northumberland.
NFU Scotland’s deputy director of policy, Andrew Bauer, said: “Instead of a considered approach to such a complex, costly and controversial issue as lynx reintroduction, thus far Lynx UK Trust appears to have focussed on courting public and media attention.
“In doing so it has failed to abide by many of the basic principles that govern species reintroduction.”
Mr Bauer said the trust has neither properly consulted land managers nor credibly explained how it plans to manage the risks associated with release.
Lynx are solitary and territorial animals and their individual range can extend to at least 40 square miles.
“It is difficult to reconcile this with Lynx UK Trust’s proposals for reintroduction of multiple adults into relatively small forested areas,” said Mr Bauer.
As a member of the National Species Reintroduction Forum, NFU Scotland would have a key role in the scrutiny of any application for reintroduction of lynx.
“Should it appear that the risks to farming and crofting would be unacceptable, NFU Scotland would act accordingly,” Mr Bauer added.
The National Sheep Association is also readying itself to oppose any return of wild lynx.
Its chief executive Phil Stocker said the reintroduction would bring with it a “damaging impact on farmers’ livelihoods”.
Much has changed, Mr Stocker added, since the lynx became extinct in the UK some 1,300 years ago not least the value of some individual sheep.
“Sheep farming is fairly marginal for an awful lot of people,” he said.
“They need encouragement, not added burdens and risks.”
However, the Lynx UK Trust said the wild cats have proven themselves across Europe to be harmless to humans and of very little threat to livestock.