Short answer - no! There are four different lynx species under the genus Lynx: the Iberian lynx, the Eurasian lynx, the Canadian lynx, and the Bobcat.
The Eurasian lynx is the subspecies of lynx which used to live in the UK, and which we want to bring back - it is native to European, Central Asain and Siberian forests. It is a specialist roe deer predator, with roe deer accounting for up to 99% of prey biomass in some cases (Milner and Irvine, 2015, citing Nowicki, 1997, Okarma et al., 1997, Jobin et al., 2000, and Mayer et al., 2012). In recent years, the Eurasian lynx has been the subject of numerous successful reintroduction efforts, in Germany, France and Switzerland.
Eurasian lynx are medium sized felids that come in a variety of colours and patterns according to their locality and the time of year: generally, their coats are greyer in winter and further north, and more reddish-brown in summer and further south. Lynx who live further south also tend to have more spots than those found further north (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2017). The British lynx was most closely related to Northern lynx, a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx which are typically grey or pale brown, with a white, lightly spotted belly.
Eurasian lynx have characteristic ‘tufts’ at the tips of their ears which are thought to help with hearing, and a short tail tipped with black fur. Highly adapted to cold environments, their webbed paws serve as snowshoes, while their long legs, with the back ones shorter than the front, allow them to spring on their prey.
Though they greatly vary in size depending on where they live, Eurasian lynx tend to be around a metre in length, and about 70cm height at the shoulder. They weigh around 20kg on average (which is about the same size as an adolescent labrador), though they can reach up to 38kg (Sunquist and Sunquist, 2017).
Lynx populations are generally focused in dense forests, but they also like habitats with rocky outcroppings.
Eurasian lynx have a huge geographic range, stretching across the whole of Northern Europe into Asia, as far as the Tibetan Plateau, and they are even found at the eastern-most point of Russia. In fact, they have the widest distribution of any cat (von Arx et al., 2004)! However, Western European populations are now fragmented and often very small; while the population is estimated at around 50,000 worldwide, the vast majority are found in Russia and China (Breitenmoser et al., 2015). Because of this, many countries are now creating reintroduction programs.
Across their territorial range, a range of different species have been found to be preyed upon by the lynx, though small ungulates (such as deer) make up the vast majority of their diet. In areas where lynx cohabit with roe deer, in fact, the scientific consensus is that roe deer are lynx’s preferred prey, accounting for between 50-99% of prey biomass (Milner and Irvine, 2015, citing Nowicki, 1997, Okarma et al., 1997, Jobin et al., 2000, and Mayer et al., 2012). Given the excessively large numbers of roe deer in the UK, and the fact that release sites have been chosen based on high roe deer density, roe deer would undoubtedly be the primary food source for lynx here. Lynx have also been known to prey on other small deer species, such as muntjac and Chinese water deer, so in areas where both lynx and these other deer species are present, there would likely be some predation.
Lynx have also been known to prey upon smaller mammals (such as rodents) and birds, though most non-ungulate species contribute little to the lynx diet (Jobin et al., 2000). Similarly, lynx have been known to prey on domestic livestock, but studies have shown that lynx prefer wild prey and that sheep predation is generally low (Stahl et al., 2001b).
The lynx used to live in the UK, and therefore has a crucial role to play in its ecology: it is a ‘native’ animal. ‘Native’, in this sense, refers to an animal which would live here if humans had had no influence - in other words, anything that lived here after the last Ice Age glaciation, which ended about 9,000 years ago. Other native species include wildcats, foxes, and red deer.
‘Non-native’ species are animals and plants which are only found in the UK because humans brought them here; examples include feral cats and grey squirrels. Non-native species can disrupt an ecosystem, as they are not naturally a part of it. Species that have a negative impact on their adopted ecosystem are known as ‘invasive’ species. The grey squirrel falls under this category, because their presence has affected populations of native red squirrels.
A native species like the lynx, on the other hand, fits into the ecological makeup of the UK, since before its local extinction it evolved within the ecosystem for hundreds of thousands of years. Without them, the ecological chain is missing an apex predator species.
It is generally thought that lynx went extinct in the UK around 1,300 years ago. The cause of this extinction was not natural, instead being caused by humans through a combination of deforestation, depleted deer populations, and hunting (Hetherington et al., 2005). This extinction has left an important jigsaw piece missing in the puzzle of UK ecosystems, and our forests and biodiversity are suffering as a result. Humans might have removed lynx from the ecology of the UK, but that doesn’t mean that we removed the function that they fulfilled - their required role as an apex predator still exists, yet it is not being performed.
The UK has changed drastically since wild lynx last lived on these shores, but beneath the man-made changes such as the introduction of cities and industrial farming, and an increased human population, the ecology of the country hasn’t changed that much at all. 1,300 years, evolutionarily speaking, is a blink of an eye, and the role which lynx used to perform is still required. Without a species to take up this mantle once again, our forests and ecosystems remain unbalanced and continue to be damaged.
The severe deforestation that occurred over the past millennium has been halted, and huge reforestation, tree planting projects, and forestry protection legislation have rebuilt an environment suitable to housing lynx once again. Government agencies have stated that the necessary habitat exists within Scotland (Scottish Wildlife Trust Policy, 2007), and it has been estimated that the suitable habitat range in the Southern Uplands and Highlands could support up to 450 lynx (Hetherington et al., 2008).
The lynx and woodland have a symbiotic relationship: woodland provides a habitat for the lynx, and the lynx stops the over-populated deer from overgrazing. In turn, this helps every other native species which relies on woodland for habitat and food.
Along with such animals as wolves and sea otters, the lynx is a keystone species, a term used to describe an organism which helps to define its entire ecosystem. In relation to their population numbers, these species have a disproportionately large impact on their environment (Cristancho, 2004). Often, this can take the form of top-down trophic cascades: keystone species such as lynx perform the important function of population control of species below them in the food chain. Because they are so integral, the loss of a keystone species can have a drastic impact on the ecosystem, and its health and biodiversity.
The Woodland Trust’s State of Nature report reflects the dire circumstances we find ourselves in. The ecosystems in the UK are unbalanced and biodiversity is poor, with ‘many of the targets that were set on maintaining and enhancing woodland biodiversity not being met’. Moreover, ‘the traditional approach of conserving isolated nature reserves is now giving way to an understanding of the need for conservation across whole landscapes’ (Woodland Trust, 2011). Action is needed, and it is needed now.
The UK’s ecology has evolved for millions of years, with specific roles for top predator species built into its framework. Therefore, the lack of a top predator species has created an imbalance in our ecosystems. The UK is drastically over-populated with herbivores, especially deer, who graze a forest area until nothing is left before moving on to do the same elsewhere. This high ‘browsing pressure’ creates a strain on the habitat, reducing its suitability for all inhabitants, including the deer themselves.
On top of this, the lynx belongs here just as much as we do. It has a right to exist in the UK, and we believe that humans have a moral obligation to bring it back - in fact, Annex IV of Article 22 of the EU Habitats and Species Directive requires Member States to assess the potential and desirability of reintroducing species which have been lost, and to look at other Member States’ experiences to support such assessments (European Commission, 1992). The lynx has been widely reintroduced across Europe over the past few decades, so there is lots of precedent to draw on here.
The lynx is a beautiful, secretive creature, and it would be wonderful for it to live in the UK once again. It is a low-risk animal with regards to threat to humans and livestock: there has never been a recorded lynx attack on a human, and evidence suggests that on average, a single lynx will only kill around 0.4 sheep per year (White et al., 2015). They would also provide local areas with significant lynx tourism, as seen in the reintroduction of lynx to the Harz mountains in Germany (see video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5FGdveWYJE).
As worldwide recognition of top-down trophic cascades grows, reintroduction (particularly of keystone species) is of increasing interest for the restoration of ecosystems (Ovenden et al., 2019). Vibrant ecosystems, which are species rich and genetically diverse, are more resilient and have a greater ability to adapt. Conserving biodiversity is therefore vital to ensuring the maintenance of ecosystem function, both now and in the future. The loss of apex predators across huge swathes of the planet ‘arguably stands to represent humankind's most pervasive influence on the natural world’ (Estes et al., 2011).
In a world where we are seeing the importance of natural landscapes, and of cooperation between humans and nature, large carnivores are a great litmus test; ‘their presence (or the effort needed to maintain their presence) is an indicator not only of the quality of the environment (i.e., its habitat and prey base), but also of human tolerance’ (Breitenmoser, 2007). Large carnivores act as ‘umbrella’ species, which are the focus of conservation efforts as their protection positively impacts the conservation of other species in the ecosystem, and are often used as ‘flagship’ species, which are used as ‘ambassadors’ for conservation efforts (Simberloff, 1998).
The Deer Question in more detail
What is the problem?
Why is this such a problem?
How can lynx help?
Lynx are a great candidate for reintroduction because they pose zero risk to humans and livestock. A native species, lynx are the missing puzzle piece from the UK’s ecology: they are specialist deer hunters, and would help control deer behaviour and numbers.
Lynx also hunt in a sustainable manner; as a solitary and territorial animal, each individual will claim a space which contains enough prey to keep themselves fed, without wiping the prey population out altogether. Competition between individuals helps to ensure this, so if deer numbers did collapse each lynx would push to claim other territories in order to increase their available prey. In turn, prey scarcity would cause lynx numbers to decrease, allowing the deer population to recover and balance out again.
We are working with two sites in mind; Kielder Forest in Northumberland and Queen Eizabeth Forest in Scotland. Both of these have been selected after extensive research into the potential ecology and social/cultural impacts of lynx reintroduction. We are focusing on two sites as opposed to one because they both offer great potential, and experts have indicated that multi-site lynx reintroductions may be a better strategy for recovery programmes in fragmented landscapes (Zimmermann et al., 2007).
Key attributes of these areas include a high roe deer population density (Kielder Forest houses over 20,000 deer, with 11 individuals per square kilometer); fewer potential barriers, such as roads, rivers, railways; high woodland cover; the potential for lynx-based tourism; and lower density of farmland.
It is important to remember that we are working towards a 5 year trial period, which means that this is not a full-scale reintroduction. Instead, this would be a time limited trial reintroduction so as to observe, measure, and analyse the effects of lynx on various aspects of the UK's social, economic and natural environments. An exit strategy will be firmly in place in case the lynx need to be removed for any reason during the trial period, or after it has ended. While we are planning for this eventuality, we would hope that this wouldn’t be required.
The individual lynx would be transported to the United Kingdom from their home populations, and after being held in quarantine to ensure they carry no diseases, would then be fitted with GPS tracking collars. These would allow our team to monitor the whereabouts of the individuals at all times - in fact, these lynx would be the most highly monitored individual animals ever to live in the UK. We would then spend the next 5 years monitoring both the lynx and its impact on the ecosystem, as well as its effect on the farming and tourism of the local area.
The lynx will be sourced from Northern Europe, making sure to avoid any populations with rabies (as is sometimes the case in southern Europe). Individuals will be selected from multiple donor populations to ensure high genetic variability in the founding population.
It is important that wild lynx are used for a UK reintroduction. In some previous European reintroduction programmes, captive or wild lynx which have spent extended periods of time in captivity have been used. This is controversial not only in terms of animal welfare, but conservation concerns too: captive animals often show no aversion to people, leading to greater conflict with humans, and making it difficult for them to develop the hunting skills they need to survive.
We will be using multiple donor populations, which will ensure very high genetic variability in the founding population. Once populations within the UK are established, cross-pollination of individuals between populations will bolster this genetic diversity.
The trial animals will be intensively, but not intrusively, monitored throughout the Trial. This monitoring will cover all relevant ecological, social and economic potential impacts which have been identified prior to the trial. Location monitoring will be crucially important, and this will be done by fitting GPS collars to each of the trial animals. This will allow the location of the animals to be obtained at any time. It is important to note that any youngsters will also be collared. GPS collaring to monitor lynx is a commonly and successfully used technique throughout Europe.
Lynx are majestic and beautiful creatures, and seeing one in the wild would be a memory to treasure for a lifetime. Because of this, eco-tourism based around the lynx could provide a huge boost to rural communities and their local economies in areas where lynx are found: not only would people be visiting the lynx site trying to catch a glimpse, but they would be staying in local hotels, and visiting local restaurants, pubs, and shops. VisitScotland has previously stated that ‘the discussion of the reintroduction of large carnivores to Scotland is a “hugely positive development”’ (Lederer, 2002, cited by Hetherington, 2006).
An excellent case study which proves the benefits of lynx reintroduction to local economies is the Harz Lynx Project in Germany, in which reintroduced 24 lynx were released into the Harz Mountain area in 2000. It was found that over half (54%) of people visiting the Harz Mountains stated that the presence of lynx was a key reason for visiting. It was estimated that lynx support between £8 million and £13 million of tourist spend each year in this area, which is more than twice the amount recorded for white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull, suggesting that lynx could potentially be an even more significant draw to tourists in the UK (White et al., 2016).
Since the reintroduction in the Harz mountains, the village of Bad Harzburg on the southern edge of the National Park have fully embraced the lynx. The village has branded itself as a lynx tourist destination, with lynx statues, images, memorabilia, and recreation activities being widely promoted throughout the area. Local hoteliers in this area have reported a 25% increase in revenue since the reintroduction of the lynx (Thomson, 2012).he subspecies of lynx which used to live in the UK, and which we want to bring back - it is native to European, Central Asain and Siberian forests. It is a specialist roe deer predator, with roe deer accounting for up to 99% of prey biomass in some cases (Milner and Irvine, 2015, citing Nowicki, 1997, Okarma et al., 1997, Jobin et al., 2000, and Mayer et al., 2012). In recent years, the Eurasian lynx has been the subject of numerous successful reintroduction efforts, in Germany, France and Switzerland.
It is understandable that there are concerns about reintroducing a wild cat back into the UK. It sounds scary, particularly when you hear the lynx referred to as an apex predator (which it is), and the fact that we are all used to living alongside nothing larger than wildcats, foxes, deer, and domestic dogs.
However, just because this sort of reaction is understandable, it doesn’t mean that it is correct. In fact, Lynx pose no threat to humans and there has never been a reported lynx attack - even anecdotal references to man-eating lynx don’t seem to exist (Breitenmoser et al, 2000). Lynx are secretive, solitary creatures who prefer to stay away from humans. In reality, if you were in a forest inhabited by a lynx population, you would be incredibly lucky to get even a split-second glimpse of one of these animals.
This is one of the most crucial questions we get asked. The Lynx UK Trust recognise the importance of being clear about the threat a population of lynx might pose to the livelihood of local farmers, particularly sheep farmers, and it is true that predation of livestock by large carnivores is a major cause of conservation conflict globally, and is a significant barrier to public acceptance of carnivores.
Whilst lynx don’t predate upon cattle, it is true that lynx can and will predate upon sheep. However, it is also true that the predation statistics are incredibly low - on average, a single lynx will take only 0.4 sheep per year (White et al., 2015). As specialist deer hunters, lynx prefer wild prey (Mattisson et al., 2014). Studies across 11 European countries show that 0.01–0.55% of the available stock is taken by lynx per year (Stahl et al., 2001a, citing Kaczensky, 1996). The concerns surrounding livestock-lynx conflicts are often based in fear, rather than facts. Remains of over 600 lynx kills in the Jura Mountains, Switzerland between 1988 and 1998 were examined and no livestock victims were found (Jobin et al., 2000)
All of that being said, it would be a mistake to reduce this question to pure economics. There are concerns regarding livestock predation outside of the value of livestock, such as emotional distress, which is why we must work with local stakeholders to ensure that all concerns are discussed openly . We certainly believe that with a proactive approach to finding solutions; by working really closely with farmers and landowners; and with a considerable deer density in many parts of the UK, everyone could be pleasantly surprised by the outcome of a lynx reintroduction.
It is very unlikely that pet-lynx conflict would occur, as there is no solid evidence of lynx attacking pet dogs and cats. The majority of the time, domestic dogs are accompanied by humans, both of whom make noise - which is exactly what makes a lynx retreat to safety. Conflict between lynx and cats is also expected to be very minimal, as the habitats of domestic cats and lynx are not likely to overlap at all: domestic cats are highly unlikely to enter a forested area miles away from their home which has been scent marked by lynx, though feral cats may be at risk of lynx predation (Hetherington, 2016).
We are often asked questions regarding lynx predation on wildcats, one of our current resident predators, and most endangered species. Since wildcats need forest for both habitat and food, the forest regeneration that lynx are hoped to encourage should help wildcat populations, much as it will help other forest dwelling species by providing a healthier and more balanced habitat. Across Europe, wildcat and lynx populations co-exist side by side relatively peacefully. However, some European studies have identified wildcat as an occasional lynx prey species, so some caution is necessary while the wildcat population is so low. Nonetheless, we don't have plans to reintroduce lynx into any areas with wildcats.
Predation on capercaillie, another protected species, is also a major concern for some. However, in a study of the diet of 29 lynx in the Jura Mountains, where capercaillies are more abundant than in the Scottish Highlands, it was found that only one capercaillie had fallen prey to the local lynx population over a 10-year period (Hetherington, 2006). As researchers had predicted, roe deer and chamois made up the vast majority of prey.
Lynx presence can provide nutrients to other species in forests by leaving deer carcasses on the forest floor - this contributes to a healthy and vibrant ecosystem. For example, a study of a Norwegian forest ‘found a greater abundance and richer diversity of beetles around a roe deer carcass than elsewhere in the forest’ (Hetherington, 2006). Additionally, lynx predation on foxes could help small game and ground nesting birds, as fox predation on these animals is higher than lynx predation (Helldin et al., 2006; Elmhagen & Rushton, 2007; Elmhagen et al., 2010).
Will the Lynx be hunted?
As part of our application process, we would ask that the lynx be provided legal protections, and any poaching of them would be met with severe legal penalties. Our legal team over at Living Law would work with DEFRA to ensure that this was satisfactory.
Alongside strict legal protections, the best course of action in this regard is engagement and education with local communities, and the widespread dissemination of well-researched information.
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