Am Bratach No. 315
January 2018

Impact of lynx ‘catastrophic’

An NFU Scotland study trip to Norway has learned that 45% of almost 20,000 sheep losses compensated by the Norwegian government in 2016 were attributable to predation by lynx, bears or wolves. Following the trip, NFU Scotland Vice President Martin Kennedy said: “The Norwegians told us that to reintroduce predators into our country would be an absolute catastrophe. Their experience has simply strengthened our resolve to ensure that any proposals to do the same in Scotland receive rigorous scrutiny. If they will have an unacceptable impact on farmers and crofters, the union will act accordingly.”

Natural England is currently assessing an application for a trial reintroduction of six lynx to Kielder Forest in Northumberland. Although Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, announced in November that he “would not, in any circumstances, support the reintroduction of lynx into Scotland”, Scottish sheep producers are keeping an anxious eye on developments south of the border.

The UK Lynx Trust, which seeks licenses to conduct a regulated trial of reintroducing lynx in Britain, describes the animal as “a missing jigsaw piece in the puzzle that is the UK ecology”. Lynx are seen as the answer to controlling deer, which are blamed for damaging forests and, consequently, the habitats required for other wildlife.

Closer to home, the rewilding lobby continues to promote a vision of the Highlands as a wilderness reserve modelled on international experiments such as Yellowstone Park in the USA. In discussion with Doug Smith, wolf project leader at Yellowstone, Alladale Estate owner Paul Lister has argued for the environmental, economic and educational benefits of reintroducing wolves, bear and lynx to his estate. A persuasive argument garnered from the Yellowstone experiment is that $35 million of economic activity is said to have been generated as a result of “wolf tourism”. Mr Lister has said that reports he is seeking to reintroduce dangerous predators irresponsibly into an uncontrolled environment are unfounded. Based on the example of South African reserves, he believes they can be safely contained within a fence.

Halladale crofter, Sandy Murray, who chairs NFU Scotland’s Crofting, Highlands and Islands Committee, is not so persuaded. “My own personal view is that they’re gone, so leave them gone”, he said. “A fence is deteriorating all the time. When I was young, if people put up fences, you expected them to last for thirty, forty years, whereas the life expectancy of a fence now is only twelve years because of the quality of the materials. All it needs is one snowstorm where there’s a drift against the fence and they’re out.”

Mr Murray also points to the lessons learned from the introduction of sea eagles to the west coast and the islands, which has led to problems with increased predation. “It’s the thin edge of the wedge”, he warns. “Once you get one species, then there will be another species and another species.”

The UK Lynx Trust claims that lynx are no threat to humans, and that “it is exceptionally rare for them to predate on agricultural animals”. In November, The Scottish Farmer reported on a case in Wales, where a Eurasian Lynx escaped from a zoo in Aberystwyth, killing seven sheep in a single attack. 

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