After an absence of more than a millennium, the wild lynx might once again prowl the forests of Britain.
Under a plan by the conservation charity Lynx UK Trust, 18 lynx will be released on private estates in England and Scotland. The plan is currently awaiting approval by Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage.
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The lynx once thrived on the British Isles. Prized for its fur, it was hunted to extinction between the 6th and 8th centuries. Advocates with the Lynx UK Trust believe the cat’s reintroduction will revitalize the countryside. They eat deer, rabbits, and hares, but they do not pose a danger to humans.
Since deer and rabbits are overpopulated, they tend to overgraze. Natural predators like the lynx will keep them in check.
“The British countryside is dying, and lynx will bring it back to life,” said Trust adviser Dr. Paul O’Donoghue.
Proponents compare the plan to other predator reintroduction programs, such as the release of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in 1995. Years after the reintroduction, biologists say the wolves have transformed the park for the better. The lynx is expected to offer similar benefits to the British forest ecosystem and provide inspiration for other conservation projects.
However, the reintroduction plan may be opposed by local farmers who say the predators attack their livestock. The Yellowstone reintroduction program faced similar opposition. The Trust said attacks on domestic animals by lynx are rare, but it hopes to dampen these concerns by offering a subsidy program for affected farmers.
The Trust has asked the public for views on the lynx reintroduction plan. It hopes to release the cats on private estates in Norfolk, Cumbria, and Aberdeenshire soon. The areas are all unfenced and provide sufficient tree cover. Deer have overgrazed the area, allowing the lynx to thrive, while giving scientists insight into their long-term effect on the environment.