Samantha Dougary explores whether the Eurasian lynx should be reintroduced back into the Scottish Highlands, to once again be free to roam and thrive in their natural habitat for the first time in 500 years.
The Eurasian lynx was once native to Scotland before habitat loss and overhunting drove the species to extinction over 500 years ago. Since 2008, the carnivores reintroduction to Scotland has been proposed due to prior success in other parts of Europe. The woodlands in rural Scotland have been deemed an almost perfect habitat for lynx to thrive and could support a large population of around 400 individuals. The extensive tree coverage of the Scottish woodlands provides a home to roe deer, which damage the vegetation due to overgrazing of the evergrowing population. As they make up most of the carnivores diet, lynx would provide deer management and restore balance to the habitat without any intervention from humans.
The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust are three charities that are working together to look at the potential reintroduction of lynx into Scotland. They investigated the public’s attitude towards the reintroduction of this carnivore and found that farmers are particularly against the idea. Farmers are fearful that lynx will attack their precious livestock – especially sheep. But when looking at the statistics, it was found across Europe that the average kill rate was 0.4 sheep per year for one lynx. As you can see, lynx are clearly not a threat to livestock. Additionally, they do not hunt on open grounds, and although their primary prey source is roe deer, they predate foxes, which in turn reduces the number of lamb attacks by foxes. So, farmers can potentially benefit from the reintroduction of lynx into the Scottish highlands.
In addition to the potential threats on farming, there has also been concern regarding attacks on the public. However, lynx are not known to attack humans. In fact, lynx are very timid and will actively flee from any humans that they encounter. In areas where reintroduction has been successful, lynx have been rarely spotted, even in well-visited areas, indicating that the impact on the public will be minimal or potentially non-existent.
Many European countries, including Germany, France and Switzerland, have already successfully reintroduced the Eurasian lynx back into their woodlands with no impact on farming or humans. Regardless of this, efforts to reintroduce the lynx back into the UK in 2018 were rejected by the UK government. The charities mentioned earlier are still pushing for the reintroduction, but despite bringing forward many counterarguments and benefits that the lynx would bring, the Scottish government has no plans to approve the reintroduction.
These predators, if reintroduced, will play a vital role in restoring the natural environment and have proven to play a key role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. In addition to successfully managing deer numbers, the lynx also leave carcasses after sufficient feeding. This provides food for other woodland species and also acts as a soil fertiliser. The benefits to conservation and ecology very much outweigh the potential small costs brought about by the reintroduction. The depletion of the Eurasian lynx was our forefathers’ wrongdoing. It is now our responsibility to restore the balance in the natural environment, which has been lacking for over five centuries. As the much-loved David Attenborough says, it’s time to “rewild the world”.
Written by Samantha Dougary and edited by Samantha Cargill.
Samantha Dougary is a third-year zoology student. Find her on Instagram @samanthadougary