Lynx UK Trust lets the cat out of the bag


There was a ripple of excitement and, certainly in my hearing, a reaction that was mostly professional resentment (jealousy?) at the profile achieved when the Telegraph ran a story a couple of years ago about a proposal by the Lynx UK Trust (LUKT) to reintroduce two breeding pairs of lynx to an area of remote, heavily forested land on the west coast of Scotland (1). The lynx would wear collars containing a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracker that would enable their movements to be followed. The collars would also contain a sedative that could be injected into the animal’s neck if it strayed outside of an area of virtual fencing defined by GPS, and where they may have posed a threat to livestock. The Trust said that it was in the process of developing an application to Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for the trial release of these former native species. SNH was quoted in the article as saying "Anyone proposing to reintroduce a species that used to be native to Scotland, is entitled to apply for a licence to do so. Such an application would be considered on the basis of international guidelines on species reintroductions"

Over the months, I kept an eye on the LUKT website and Facebook page (2,3) to see what progress was being made with the application. Little information was given, other than the Trust saying that it had been in conversation with SNH about making an application for release, and an inference that the application process was proving more complex than expected. It emerges that Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor of the Trust, gave a presentation of the proposal to the National Species Reintroduction Forum (NSRF) in Scotland, six months after the article appeared in the Telegraph. This is the same Forum, you may remember, that agreed to the capture of the beaver living wild and free in Tayside even though it was contested whether they had the power to make the decision (4). The beaver were subsequently given a reprieve when acknowledgement of the scale of their successful colonisation made capture implausible (5).

Briefing the National Species Reintroduction Forum

O’Donaghue set out a three year local feasibility study to the Forum on the trial release of lynx, with a program of post-release monitoring that included impact on livestock, compensation being paid for losses (6). He said that discussions had been held with landowners, and the importance of engagement with local communities and stakeholders was seen as essential. The minutes of the Forum meeting reveal that there was discussion of the proposal after O’Donaghue had left, raising concerns about the lack of clarity over the selection of a trial site, resourcing, how local people would be engaged, and that the project would need to take into account the issues and approaches set out in the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations that was being drafted in consultation with Forum members, these concerns eventually relayed to O’Donaghue. At a subsequent meeting of the Forum, a member noted that there had been increasing interest in lynx reintroduction, and felt that the Forum needed to increase its knowledge on lynx issues (7). The Forum recognised that this was especially the case in relation to socio-economic factors, and that it could use lynx as a test for itself of the upcoming Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations and associated Guidelines (6).

Meanwhile, in early 2013, the Cairngorms National Park Authority released a long-trailed internal report about the potential for restoration of vertebrate species in the Park, and which contained a recommendation that there should be further exploration of the ability of the Park to contribute to a national lynx reintroduction project (8). The Scottish Wildlife Trust reconfirmed their policy view from 2008, that reintroduction of lynx be a priority (9) when their chief executive called in late 2014 for its reinstatement (10) while the John Muir Trust also fingered the lynx for reinstatement in its policy on “rewilding” earlier this year, believing that a trial re-introduction project to Scotland should be implemented within the next five years (11). Of course, none of these organisations are actively pursuing that course, or engaging with the processes documented in the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations and accompanying Guidelines that were finally launched in July 2014, and which were said by SNH to have a “special focus on both Scottish socio-economic and biological issues” (12). While Forum minutes record that these documents had abandoned the structure of the international guidance, they read just like a duplication of the IUCN’s Guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations that I briefly reviewed in relation to the application process for reinstatement of the wolf to Britain (13,14). There is also an assertion from SNH that the “significant involvement and approval of 26 different members of the NSRF” meant that the Code and Guidelines represent “an approach that has been agreed across a wide range of conservation and land use organisations” (12). How wide a range that is, is immaterial when it is not representative of the Scottish people and doesn’t seek to capture or represent the public will (4). Nevertheless, both a blank and a worked example of the Translocation Project Form are provided in an Appendix and, when coupled with the Code and Guidelines, it does at least give people in Scotland a clear steer in what they have to do to make a credible application (15).

More potential release sites identified

Another article about the LUKT proposal appeared a few weeks ago in the Telegraph, but this time, as well as a location in Scotland, a couple of proposed release sites in England were given: Ennerdale in the Lake District and Thetford Forest in Norfolk (16). It was reported that the Trust had launched a public consultation to determine public reaction, after which it would make applications to SNH and Natural England (NE). Thus on the back of a rash of publicity from this Telegraph article, and others in the Times, BBC News and Independent, the Trust launched an online public survey through SurveyMonkey, as the first stage of a public consultation process that the Trust said would also include talks and meetings with interested members of the local community and other stakeholders, based around the proposed reintroduction sites (2). The survey closed on the 22 March having had over 9,000 responses (more on that poll later).

I have written over the years about Ennerdale, and how it is the least critiqued nonsense of a supposed ecological restoration, when in fact it is a livestock driven landscape (17, 18). In relation to an ecological function of lynx, I have pointed out previously that 20 of the 80 or so roe deer in the Ennerdale valley are shot each year by a Wildlife Ranger employed by the Forestry Commission, ostensibly so that their browsing does not prevent woodland regeneration (17). If that was the concern, why was cattle grazing introduced throughout the valley under Higher Level Stewardship schemes, but at the expense of us sacrificing a native animal that could have been prey for the lynx? The choice of Ennerdale by the LUKT seemed speculative, and so a fellow member of the advisory group for Ennerdale contacted the Area Forester, and got the response that the “Wild” Ennerdale Partners had not been contacted by the Trust, nor were they considering lynx reintroduction. Considering the determination there to turn the valley into a beef farm (18) this is another betrayal in the opportunities that the Ennerdale valley could have provided in the return of natural processes, such as a trophic cascade between lynx, deer, and regenerating woodland (19).

The proposal of Thetford Forest was equally speculative, even though it was reported in the Eastern Daily Post that O’Donoghue, considered it a favourable area because of a “high deer population and a relatively low human population” and that he had got “landowners who are interested and we are very excited about the scheme” (20). To accompany its article, the Post carried out a poll of its readership that revealed that 80% of 752 voters were keen to see lynx reinstated in unfenced land under the Trust proposals. The Daily Mirror also carried out a poll of its readers in an article about the Trust’s proposals for release sites in Norfolk, Cumbria and Aberdeenshire, and received a vote of 89% who were “happy with lynx being reintroduced” (21). While I cannot date it, there is a poll in the BBC iWonder interactive guide on the return of big cats that shows 69% of respondents favouring the reintroduction of lynx to the UK (22).

The socio-economic impact of lynx reinstatement

The proposed Scottish location caught the attention of Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) a landowner membership organisation. Douglas McAdam, its Chief Executive, noted that the NRSF had been set up in Scotland after being requested by SLE and others in the land management sector, “to ensure that future reintroduction proposals, especially of large predatory carnivore species, had their potential impacts on economic land use, other species and our communities, properly assessed as part of a robust and inclusive decision making process” (23). I just wonder how much influence McAdam thinks an SLE presence in the Forum, and the Forums role in decision making (24) can accommodate the SLE view of being “deeply sceptical that the majority of our membership would welcome it”. It was not long before other land interests sought to exert their influence, Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association writing to the chief executive of NE and Defra minister Lord De Mauley about the threat to livelihoods and business from the release of lynx (25). The Association apparently received a “speedy response” from NE, which gave an assurance that it would “consult all relevant parties and consider the socio-economic impacts of the reintroduction, as well as impacts on the environment and the animals themselves”.

The threat of sheep predation was also raised when the LUKT announced two more locations as proposed release sites: the Kielder Forest in Northumberland, and the forested areas just over the border in Dumfries and Galloway (26). John Riddle has 1,000 sheep on his farm to the east of Kielder Forest, and is a county councillor for the area, as well as being chair of the Northumberland National Park Authority. He thinks it is “a ridiculous idea ….an unnecessary evil that we do not need to entertain”. Perhaps Stocker and Riddle would have had more perspective on the threat from lynx predation if they had seen the April Fool’s joke in the German regional newspaper Nordwest Zeitung (27). It was a report about the success of a new denture with sharpened teeth had had for sheep in warding off wolves in the North of England “where there are particularly wicked wolves”. The joke was given away when Shaun Lamb from the British Royal Sheep Breeders' Association was quoted as saying "We had some problems at first, but then the sheep showed bite"

It was this issue of the attitudes of those “who have the power to kill”, the “farmers, gamekeepers and hunters (all of whom are allowed to own guns)” that Niki Rust looked at in her think piece about the Trusts proposal (28). Niki, a doctoral student in carnivore conservation, reflected on the main cause of death among reintroduced carnivores being due to humans. She pointed out, like I have (13) the IUCN guideline that says the main causes of the historical decline must be addressed to ensure success of reintroductions, and then cited the example of the failure of a lynx reintroduction in France being due to hunting. Niki made a call for more involvement of social scientists in wildlife management schemes, noting that the LUKT only had one amongst its team, and that the official Scottish Beaver Trial had none. In a comment in response, Australian biologist Caroline Copley said that “what is needed most is governmental policy that defines the allowed behaviour of humans, given reintroductions”. I am going to explore that problem of hunters in France, and calls there for governmental policy on lynx because, as ever, the experience of France with lynx is instructive for us – and the NSRF - as it is also with the wolf (13). However, as we go, we must have an understanding of the ecology of lynx in terms of the feasibility of its reinstatement, the arrogant presumption of the National Species Reintroduction Forum in Scotland being that there already was sufficient information on this (7).

The ecology of lynx

The Eurasian lynx, also called boreal lynx, is a large cat, 50-70cm at shoulder height, and weighing 17 to 30kg (29, 30). Females are 25% lighter than males of the same age. Lynx have a short tail, cheeks fringed with a ruff of long hair, their ears topped by characteristic tufts, and large, hairy paws that seemingly give advantage in traveling over snow. The lynx is mainly active at night, with two peaks of more pronounced activity at dusk and dawn. Roe deer, and to a lesser extent fox and wild boar, would be their main native prey in Britain, but other small ungulates are taken where they exist as native elsewhere, such as chamois, as well as marmot, hare and rabbit. The daily need of an adult is estimated at 1.5 to 3kg of meat, with approximately 50 to 70 prey like deer taken a year. An attack is by ambush, hiding behind vegetation or rocks, or at least triggered close to the prey, which will be consumed over a number of days.

The Lynx is a solitary, territorial species, mainly expressed by scent marking (urine deposits) that is more intense in males than in females. Home ranges for males can vary between 200 and 450 km² and that of a female between 100 and 150 km², with males rarely overlapping, although females may overlap with males. Each animal lives on this vast area that it defends more or less actively, spaced according to prey availability, and with a density that probably does not exceed more than 2 to 3 animals per 100km².

Historically, the species is quite strongly linked to wooded areas of very large extent, which provides lynx with abundant prey, and with a three dimensional structure that optimizes the efficiency of their hunting (e.g. presence of a diverse undergrowth). The lynx may, however, demonstrate a certain plasticity in respect of habitats used, except during periods of giving birth when the female operates a narrower selection of covered areas, seeking rocky outcrops and crevices, the pit of an uprooted tree, a tree stump with a large cavity etc.

Females are sexually mature before males (21 months vs. 33 months) but only 40 to 80% mate in any one year between February and March. The gestation period is about 10 weeks, the litter size varies from 1 to 4 kittens. Life expectancy may reach fifteen years. In spring, at the age of 9-11 months, having spent that time on their mother’s home range, it is time for them to find their own, and so young lynx disperse over varying distances (10-100 km) wandering for a few months to a few years, until it finds an area vacant of other lynx for the home range that it will keep for life. This transitional period may be associated with high mortality. Lynx dispersal ability is less than the wolf. While it can negotiate natural obstacles (lakes, rivers, mountains) and human structures (highways) it is less able to deal with multiples of these barriers, areas where potential natural corridors have disappeared, so that spontaneous dispersal is reduced. Lynx are shy and do not attack humans. No fatal incidents have ever been documented.

The history of lynx in France

Lynx were widely distributed in France in the fifteenth century, encompassing the lowlands as well as the mountains (29). Hunting and deforestation led to its disappearance from the Paris basin and the low mountains of the Vosges in the middle of the seventeenth century. Intensive hunting, deforestation, and reduction of its prey, led to its disappearance from French forests, confining it to mountainous areas, the continuing persecution finally driving it out of the Massif Central and the Jura mountains by the second half of the nineteenth century. The most recent authenticated kill in the Alps was at Queyras in the Hautes-Alpes in 1928, and so it may not have survived there past the 1930s. The last authenticated kill in the Pyrénées-Orientales dates from 1917, but there is a suggestion that the lynx hung on in the Pyrenees until the 1950s. That the lynx survived into the twentieth century in France, as did the wolf, should be contrasted with the earlier eradication of both these carnivores in Britain, the youngest lynx fossil bone being radio-dated at 1,400 years ago (31).

Lynx voluntarily returned to the Jura Mountains of France in 1974, as revealed following the shooting of a lynx in the Department of Ain (32). Unlike the wolf, that also voluntarily returned to France from Italy, a country where it had never been lost, the return of lynx in France arose from a country where they had to be reinstated. The lynx disappeared from Switzerland in the early 1900s, but a decision was made by the Federal Council in 1967 to begin a program of returning the lynx to areas of conservation where hunting was banned (Jagdbanngebiet – see (33)). Beginning in 1971, lynx caught in the wild in the Slovakian Carpathians were released in the cantons of Vaud and Obwald, reinstating them to the Swiss Jura Mountains and western Alps (30). It was these lynx that then began to turn up in the French Jura, and then the Alps to the south. To extend the range of lynx further north in France, 21 (12 males and 9 females) also largely coming from the Slovakian Carpathians, were reinstated during 1983-1993 into the southern mountains of the Vosges (34,35).

The population estimates of lynx in France today are based on regular or recent presence established by members of the Wolf Lynx Network coordinated by the national office for hunting and wildlife (Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (ONCFS) through footprints found in the snow, prey depredation, collected hair or faeces that laboratory analysis confirms as lynx and, since 2011, camera traps to confirm identification (36,37). The original Lynx Network was set up in 1989 in the departments of the Jura mountains, and then spread gradually to all departments of the Alps and Vosges (30). In 2000 a wolf network in the Alps was merged with the Lynx Network so that both species were monitored (30,37). Besides looking for clues for the presence and monitoring of both species, the Network is also responsible for appraising cases of predation on domestic livestock and making the decision that allows receipt of compensation in cases of attack proved to be by a wolf or lynx.

There are now around 150 lynx in the eastern mountains, the main core being in the Jura (just over 100 lynx) after it gradually expanded its territory through much of the Jura mountains (the departments of Ain, Jura, Doubs) (see the distribution map in (36)). Two smaller populations exist outside of that core. To the north, the presence of lynx in the vast forest in the Vosges du Nord (which continues north into SW Germany as the Pfälzerwald (Palatinate Forest)) is still sporadic and appears to be disconnected from the more regular sightings in the southern, lower Vosges. The population in the Alps occupies the smallest total area and is discontinuous, the denser presence of signs observed in the most compact and continuous forests of the Northern Alps (Bauges, Chartreuse and Vercors) (34).

Legal protection of lynx in France

Protection of the lynx in France dates from only two years after its return, when the Act on protection of nature in 1976 banned, where the requirements of preserving national biological heritage were justified, the destruction, mutilation, capture or removal of non-domestic (wild) animals, and the destruction, alteration or degradation of their habitats, (see Art. 3 in (38)). In 1981, lynx were named in the Decree establishing a list of protected mammals on the whole territory of France, and which reiterated the prohibition of persecution (39). It is interesting to note that the brown bear was also on this list of protected species in the Decree of 1981, as it had hung on in the Pyrenees, its presence there being reinforced by the translocations of bears from Slovenia in the late 1990s and in 2006 to give a current population of around 24, as identified by a separate Brown Bear Network of ONCFS (36, 40, 41).

The Decree of 1981 has been amended a number of times, but a version of it is still in force today. Wolf was added to the list of protected animals in 1996, along with allowing authorisation to be given for capture or killing of lynx, wolf and bear to prevent serious damage to livestock, provided that there was “no satisfactory alternative and the derogation is not detrimental to the maintenance at a favourable conservation status of populations in their natural range” (42). This exemption can only be granted by a joint order of the ministers responsible for nature conservation and agriculture, after advice from the National Nature Conservation Council. A technical protocol was devised to define the criteria leading up to the removal of a lynx, and which provided for a gradation of non-statutory measures for possible intervention (from simple financial compensation to the implementation of measures reducing the risk of attack, and then the conditions for removal of the animal) (30). Ten animals were taken under this protocol since 1981, but the protocol itself was suspended in 2009.

Strict protection of lynx in France is also a requirement of the habitats directive through its listing in Annex IV, and its listing as well in Annex II requires that protected areas are designated (43). France responded to this by designating 70 Special Areas of Conservation for the lynx, where there are measures to maintain or restore long term populations to favourable status while preventing disturbances that may significantly affect them. These protected areas range in size from 1.7 to 679.6km2, covering a total of 4,919km2, all being concentrated in the three mountainous area of the Jura, Alps and Vosges (44). You may be interested to know that the brown bear is also listed in those Annexes, and France has designated 13 SAC for bear covering 1,270 km2 in the Pyrenees (44).

Le lynx a l’agonie dans les Vosges (The lynx in agony in the Vosges)

The failure of the lynx population in the Vosges to increase and expand its territory, like the more successful expansion in the Jura, is indicative of the resistance in this area to its return and in spite of the level of protection (32, 46). Many of the animals released into Vosges du Sud in the early 80s were found dead or disappeared quickly, but despite this the lynx population in the Vosges grew slowly until 2004, after which it stagnated and regressed. (47). Illegal killing through ignorance or revenge held back that expansion  – there were 58 lynx born between 1992 and 2003 in the Vosges Massif, as observed by the Lynx Network, and yet an estimate in 2013 gave a population of less than five (35). This is in spite of compensation being available for loss of sheep, providing that predation is proven, and that the responsibility of the lynx is not ruled out (48). A study in the Jura Mountains showed that lynx predation locally of sheep could be explained by a predictable set of habitat features, such as absence of human habitation, proximity to major forested areas – lynx are an ambush hunter – and local abundance of roe deer (49). The authors concluded that in grazing systems like the Jura, where unattended sheep are distributed patchily and individual problem lynx may appear, removing lynx or lowering their density without differentiating problem individuals would be insufficient to limit conflicts. Selective removals could temporarily reduce predation, but the most effective site management could only arise through improved shepherding by having guard dogs in the few local sites at risk, and providing shelter for sheep at night when attacks are on the increase. These are practices also encouraged and supported financially in mitigation of predation by wolf through the national plan for wolf in France (13). There is, however, another factor in the persecution of lynx - hunters claim that they are reducing the number of their game animals, the roe deer and chamois (48). Since the lynx has two peaks of activity at dusk and dawn, it is not surprising that the mode of hunters to stand alone on a watchtower at dawn and dusk is particularly conducive to illegal shooting (35).

FERUS, an organization that was set up to help protect wolves, bears, and lynx in France, identified an important issue of a lack of a national plan for lynx, unlike the wolf that does have a national plan, and which threatened the future persistence of the lynx in France (50). Even the brown bear had had plans supporting the releases in the Pyrenees (40). FERUS reported that the French Committee of IUCN had classified the lynx in 2009 as “endangered” (51). Soon after, FERUS called for the State to draft and effectively implement a real national conservation plan for lynx in France, and in which it wished to participate (52). FERUS developed their own draft, which it believed to be the basis of such a plan, and sent it to amongst others the Secretary of State for Ecology, and the Director of Water and Biodiversity. The plan called for greater policing of illegal killing; greater connectivity between the various mountain areas, especially preserving and restoring forest corridors and reducing mortality from road traffic; improving communication and awareness among local people, hunters, farmers foresters; continue the monitoring and scientific studies on the lynx in France, and if needed consider releases of lynx from populations outside of the Slovakian Carpathians to enhance population genetics; and while not necessarily a priority, promote the possible reinstatement of lynx to new areas if there was a strong local will and a broad consensus reintroduction of lynx in an area biologically favourable to the species (34). Specific actions in relation to the Vosges, once the reasons for the “stagnation” of the lynx population had been identified and “controlled”, consider the release of more lynx in the northern Vosges, and promote connectivity between there and the middle and southern Vosges.

Enlisting the support of the French people

Given inaction from the State, a first petition in support of greater protection of the lynx was organised by Centre Athénas, and supported by OneVoice, recognising that the lynx was the only species among the large predators that did not have a conservation plan; that illegal killing had long been denied or ignored, contributing to stagnation of the population and local regression; that there was a need for a policy on and effective implementation of protective measures for flocks; and that there needed to be restoration and maintenance of forest ecological communities across all the massifs (Vosges, Jura, Alps) as well as consideration of conservation of lynx habitat in public planning policies (53, 54,55). The petition was launched in September 2012 to mobilize citizens and make their voices heard with the Minister of Ecology and Environment. It was quickly followed by FERUS renewing its request, along with France Nature Environnement and 12 other organisations, for the establishment of a national lynx plan, citing urgency given the imminent demise of lynx in the Vosges, and asserting that the next few years would be decisive for the future of the population (47). A two month survey of the declining lynx population of the Vosges confirmed that urgency (35) the precariousness of the situation revealed in the Lynx Network Bulletin of that time (56). In relation to that, a study to determine whether the lynx still had a place in the Vosges was commissioned while a project was being developed to reinstate lynx in the Palatinate Forest over the border in Germany (37). The relevance was due to the likelihood of connectivity of this new population with hopefully the pre-existing population in the Vosges du Nord by way of the contiguous forest that runs between them.

In considering the ecology of the lynx (see above) the natural environments and the quantity of prey, the author concluded that the lynx did have a place in the Vosges in the long term, but with certain conditions: reduce lynx mortality caused by traffic accidents, and by actively seeking and punishing perpetrators of illegal shooting; restore ecological connections within the Vosges Mountains as well as between there and the neighbouring Jura and Black Forest; improve dialogue with the Hunters Federations, monitor evolution of deer numbers in areas inhabited by lynx and take into account the presence of lynx when calculating allocations for hunting in areas inhabited by the predator; support sheep farmers by informing them of existing safeguards used elsewhere, providing measures to protect flocks as well as a compensation fund, and provide a management plan for the lynx in case of repeated attacks by an individual on a flock; have a program of monitoring lynx, its reproduction and mortality, territory, genetic diversity, and prey taken; and improve cross-border coordination, especially between the Lynx Network in the Vosges and that of the Rhineland-Palatinate.

While the first petition received the support of 8,556 people, a second petition almost two years later gained over 48,000 signatures (57). Launched by FERUS in October last year, it was a response from nature conservation associations that were unwilling to accept a lack of response and state inaction since attention had first been drawn to the dire situation of lynx in the Vosges. This was even after Sandrine Bélier, a Member of the European Parliament for the East France constituency, had submitted a question for written answer from the European Commission on protection of the lynx in the Vosges (58,59). The answer, given by Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for Environment (60) disappointed FERUS because it appeared to be ignorant of the current situation, based as it was on the assumption of previous estimates of lynx population in the Vosges that put it at 19, whereas the most recent reports put a much lower and worrying figure (see above) (60). In its press release launching the petition, an open letter to Ségolène Royal, Minister of Ecology, FERUS accused the State of “abandoning the lynx to a sad fate” (61). The petition called on the State to implement an ambitious restoration plan at national level, taking into account the specificities of each mountain area, including the Vosges; increase awareness about the lynx so that local people can take ownership of the issue and learn more about the animal; increase efforts against illegal killing, the most limiting factor in the development of this species; and officially support and encourage lynx reintroduction planned in the German Palatinate (57). Flushed with excitement that support for the petition had surpassed 40,000 a couple of months ago, FERUS said that it “proves the interest of the public for wildlife populations that live in France and in particular lynx”, that they were not indifferent to the fate of wild animals, and strongly condemned the inertia of the State (63):
“We hope that Ségolène Royal finally applies this foundation of participatory democracy so dear to her principles”

Participatory democracy and the forces of reaction

I ponder the extent of this participatory democracy whenever I see the forces of reaction against wild nature ganging up, as they did before the licence for the trial release of beavers on the River Otter in Devon was approved - or re-release as it should really be called since the beavers were already there (13). A few weeks ago, I stumbled across evidence that members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) had been given a privileged opportunity for consultation on that trial re-introduction of beaver. The NFU website on 19 December 2014 said that Natural England was consulting on a licence application to release beavers on the River Otter in Devon, and giving a link to a members only login area where the consultation questions from Natural England could be read, and comments could be left (64). The NFU released their response to the Natural England on the 16 January 2015 (65,66). In the summary of its position, the NFU made it clear that it was opposed generally to species reintroduction programs, and specifically opposed the reintroduction of beaver because of concerns about physical damage to farming operations and the spread of disease. If, despite those concerns, a licence was granted, the NFU wanted “a robust legal framework in place to manage beavers in the landscape, in particular where they migrate away from the area into which they were re-introduced”

To be fair to the NFU, it did make the point that the implications of the proposed trial demanded both a national and a local consultation, and it would have expected this to be a public consultation hosted on a government website with national organisations to be consulted (66). As it was, Andrew Sells, chairman of NE, is variously reported just before the decision on the licence was announced on 28 January 2015 that "Responses to our written consultation and public meetings have been generally positive” (C4). Yet the written consultation appears only to have been open to members of the NFU, and I can find evidence of only one public meeting on the 14 January 2015 where NE consulted with the East Devon public (68) although I have been told that there was another community meeting, and a poorly attended meeting of farmers where the tenor was “pretty neutral”.

In contrast to the NFU position on beaver reintroduction, Andrew Bauer, Deputy Director of Policy for NFU Scotland, in writing in the Press and Journal about the media coverage of the lynx proposal over the last month, fell short of opposing it (69):
"Whilst the prospect of lynx reintroduction has left some breathless with excitement, there are good reasons why the farming community is more wary ...As a member of the National Species Reintroduction Forum, NFU Scotland would be involved in the scrutiny of any application and would feed in the many views and concerns likely to be voiced by our membership. Should it be clear that the risk to farming is unacceptable, NFU Scotland would act accordingly"

It is likely that NE did not consult more widely about the Devon beaver as they viewed it entirely as a limited trial – not as a national issue. Would NE have taken the same route when the LUKT submits its applications for the trial release of lynx in England – will SNH and the NSRF do similarly for an application in Scotland? Well, the cat was let out of the bag when the first results of the “pro-active” survey poll by the LUKT of 9,500 self-selected responders were revealed, and there was overwhelming public support: 91% for a trial reintroduction and 84% agreeing that it should begin within the next 12 months (70,71). Over half of the people who filled in the SurveyMonkey described themselves as being from rural communities (72) returning a level of support only 5-6% lower than urban communities (70,71). The LUKT had also commissioned a traditional opinion poll to test whether a self-selected group of responders would skew the results (70). A “passive” sample group of 1,042 demographically selected people were asked the same questions (71). Discarding the much higher numbers of “don’t knows” under this method, the level of support was still high, with 70% agreeing to the trial while 59% agreed that it should begin within the next 12 months. The Trust expects to release more information from the pro-active poll over the coming weeks, but the swell of support keeps coming in from other polls, one in the Metro on the same day as the first results from LUKT showing 82% agreeing that the lynx should be reintroduced in Britain (73).

I remain convinced that there is a large, untapped and voiceless interest in Britain for wildland and the return of former native species (74). While I have been frustrated over the last two years with the level of communication from the LUKT through their website (I don’t do Facebook and Twitter) and with their approach of dropping media bombshells about potential but speculative trial sites for lynx release, I applaud their strategy of tapping in to the public will on the reinstatement of lynx, encouraging others to do so as well, and capturing what is now irrefutable support for the action they will undertake. It is no surprise that the Trust has people in common with Wildcat Haven that just got on with ensuring the survival of wildcat in Scotland (75) the two projects being supportive of each other, and both sharing an outlook that takes responsibility for independent action where others are paralysed. I am also pleased that the Trust group includes Erwin van Maanen from the Rewilding Foundation in the Netherlands (76) with whom I spent a fascinating evening in Salamanca at the World Wilderness Congress. Don’t confuse this with another Dutch foundation - this is a “rewilding” project that really does recognise carnivores as a key component in natural processes, and in which the LUKT also believes. With the Scottish Government likely revealing its decision on the outcome of the Scottish beaver trial after SNH deliver their final reports next month (7) and with the expectation of applications by LUKT to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage being completed in the next few months, then I foresee a sharp focus on the legal challenges ahead and which I will have to navigate.

Mark Fisher 27 April 2015

(1) Wild lynx to be brought back to British countryside, Richard Gray, Daily Telegraph 26 May 2013

(2) Lynx UK Trust

(3) Lynx UK Trust Non-profit Organisation

(4) The Tayside beavers - living wild and free in Scotland, Self-willed land January 2011

(5) Tay beavers to stay free and living wild, Self-willed land May 2012

(6) MINUTES OF THE 8th MEETING OF THE NATIONAL SPECIES REINTRODUCTION FORUM. Scottish Natural Heritage, Battleby 15th November 2013..


(8) Assessing the potential for the restoration of vertebrate species in the Cairngorms National Park: a background review. Internal report by Dr David Hetherington Cairngorms National Park Authority Ecology Advisor February 2013

(9) Reintroduction, translocation and introduction of species, Scottish Wildlife Trust Policy, Date of approval of policy by Council 23 April 2008

(10) Trust chief executive calls for lynx reintroduction, Scottish Wildlife Trust News 29th December 2014

(11) Rewilding: Restoring Ecosystems for Nature and People, John Muir Trust Policy Agreed March 2015

(12) The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations

(13) Cry wolf - the return of Britain's top predator, Self-willed land February 2015

(14) New Guidelines on conservation translocations published by IUCN, IUCN News story 12 August 2013

(15) The Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations and Best Practice Guidelines for Conservation Translocations in Scotland, National Species Reintroduction Forum, Scottish Natural Heritage July 2014

(16) Wild lynx to return to Britain after 1,300 years, Camilla Turner, Daily Telegraph 8 March 2015

(17) Large carnivores as the focal species for reinstatement of natural processes in Britain, Self-willed land November 2014

(18) Watching the naturalness return to the Carrifran Valley, Self-willed land April 2015

(19) Lack of natural control mechanisms - the missing lynx, Self-willed land June 2014

(20) Our readers say “yes” to controversial plans to release the lynx back in to Thetford Forest, Andrew Fitchett, Eastern Daily Press 10 March 2015

(21) Wild lynx could be reintroduced to UK - the large cats would roam Norfolk, Cumbria and Aberdeenshire, Daily Mirror Solon 11 March 2015

(22) Could big cats be roaming the UK?, BBC iW?nder

(23) Lynx UK Trust announces reintroduction survey, Scottish Land & Estates, Latest National News 13 March 2015

(24) NATIONAL SPECIES REINTRODUCTION FORUM: Terms of Reference. Scottish Natural Heritage

(25) NSA takes action to discourage release of lynx into British countryside, National Sheep Association News 19th March 2015

(26) Should Lynx be introduced at Kielder Forest in Northumberland? Brian Daniel, The Journal 21 April 2015

(27) Jetzt beißen Schafe zurück – aber nur am 1. April, Marco Seng, NWZ Online 1 April 2015,0,266274701.html

(28) Reintroduce lynx? Fine, but we must control the apex predator – humans, Niki Rust, The Conservation 9 March 2015

(29) le LYNX en France, FERUS et Fondation Nature et Découvertes, 2007

(30) Document de formation: le lynx, Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage décembre 2011

(31) Reintroducing lynx – sensing an atmosphere of wildness, Self-willed land February 2009

(32) The Voyage of the lynx, France Nature Environnement

(33) Lynx history in Switzerland, KORA - Carnivore Ecology and Wildlife Management

(34) Propositions de FERUS pour la définition d’un «Plan national de conservation du lynx en France>> Septembre 2009

(35) Le lynx a l’agonie dans les Vosges, Communiqué FERUS/Groupe d’Étude des Mammifères de Lorraine, 19 février 2013.

(36) Évolution des populations de grands prédateurs: le loup, le lynx et l’ours. Indicateurs & Indices, Ministére de L'Écologie, du Développement Durable et de L'Énergie

(37) Le Lynx a-t-il encore sa place dans les Vosges ? Statut actuel, acceptation et perspectives pour le lynx dans les Vosges, Vosges du Nord et Pfälzerwald. Christelle Scheid Ethologue Octobre 2013

(38) Loi n°76-629 du 10 juillet 1976 RELATIVE A LA PROTECTION DE LA NATURE

(39) Arrêté du 17 avril 1981 fixant la liste des mammifères protégés sur l'ensemble du territoire

(40) Plan de restauration et de conservation de l'ours brun dans les Pyrénées françaises 2006-2009, Programme de restauration et conservation de l’ours brun dans les Pyrénées, Ministère de l’écologie et du développement durable 2006

(41) Status, management and distribution of large carnivores – bear, lynx, wolf & wolverine – in Europe MARCH 2013 - Part 2, European Commission

(42) Arrêté du 10 octobre 1996 portant modification de l'arrêté du 17 avril 1981 modifié fixant les listes des mammifères protégés sur l'ensemble du territoire

(43) COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (OJ L 206, 22.7.1992, p. 7)

(44) Natura 2000 Network Viewer, European Environment Agency

(46) Le lynx perdu de vue dans le massif des Vosges, Le avec AFP 23.12.2012

(47) Disparition imminente du lynx dans les Vosges: il y a urgence! December 13th, 2012

(48) Lynx Predation on Sheep in France, CAT NEWS, Issue 11, Autumn 1989

(49) Stahl P, Vandel JM, Ruette S, Coat L, Coat Y, et al. (2002) Factors affecting lynx predation on sheep in the French Jura. J. Appl. Ecol. 39: 204–216.

(50) Le lynx: conservation et présence en France, FERUS

(51) France : l'ours en danger critique d'extinction, le lynx en danger, le loup vulnérable February 19th, 2009

(52) FERUS demande un Plan national de conservation du lynx en France,  9 octobre 2009

(53) Bilan de la pétition : Pour un plan de conservation du lynx boréal. Mise en ligne du 27/09/2012 au 29/03/2013

(54) Un Plan de Conservation Pour Le Lynx: Il Est Temps!! Centre Athénas 28 septembre 2012

(55) LYNX EN DANGE: MOBILISONS-NOUS, OneVoice Novembre 2012

(56) Bulletin lynx du réseau N° 18 - 2013, ONCFS

(57) Non à la disparition programmée du lynx dans les Vosges !, Association FERUS, 2014/10/02 - 2015/02/0

(58) Protection of the lynx in the Vosges (France). Sandrine Bélier (Verts/ALE) Question for written answer to the Commission. Parliamentary questions 6 January 2014

(59) Préservation du Lynx boréal : un plan national est nécessaire, février 24, 2014

(60) Answer given by Mr Potočnik on behalf of the Commission, Parliamentary questions, European Parliament 21 February 2014

(61) Lynx dans les Vosges: la Commission européenne toujours ignorante de la situation dramatique June 12th, 2014

(62) L'Etat abandonne le lynx à son triste sort, FERUS 2 octobre 2014

(63) Continuons la mobilisation pour sauver le lynx dans les Vosges! FERUS 25 février 2015

(64) Beaver re-Introduction trial consultation, National Farmers Union 19 Dec 2014

(65) Response to beaver reintroduction proposals in Devon, National Farmers Union 16 Jan 2015

(66) Trial Reintroduction of Eurasian Beaver on the River Otter, East Devon, NFU Consultation Response 15 January 2015

(67) Devon beavers living in wild given reprieve, Channel 4 News 28 January 2015

(68) Natural England launches consultation on the reintroduction of the River Otter beavers, Cllr Claire Wright 29 December 2014

(69) Andrew Bauer, The Press & Journal 26 April 2015

(70) Lynx could be reintroduced to Britain 'this year', Oliver Tickell, The Ecologist 27th April 2014

(71) Survey results: proactive versus passive, Lynx UK Trust 27 April 2015

(72) Q8 How would you describe where you live? Lynx UK Trust 24 April 2015

(73) Should wild lynx be reintroduced to Britain? The public has its say, Rob Waugh, Metro 27 April 2015

(74) Untamed nature, Self-willed land March 2014

(75) The third dimension is the last refuge of the wild, Self-willed land December 2014

(76) The Rewilding Foundation – for wilderness with carnivores