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The Eurasian lynx territory spans right across Europe and into Asia. Any talk of reintroducing predators in the UK usually ends up in a ping pong of accelerated emotions. There’s a lot of cultural baggage that makes the conversation a very heated one. It seems everyone has a theory on reintroducing wolves, but what about the lynx? Surely It’s by far the less controversial reintroduction. Is the lynx a more realistic candidate for reintroduction than the wolf? Could it be the first carnivore to be reintroduced into Scotland?
The Eurasian lynx survived in Scotland until going extinct around 1,300 years ago due to hunting and habitat loss, but there has been confusion with timings. In 1927, a well-preserved skull thought to be around 4,000 years old was found in Sutherland. This may indicate that the lynx died out as Scotland became a wetter maritime climate. However, recent radiocarbon dating revealed the skull is actually around 1,800 years old. Also lynx thrive in similar conditions elsewhere. It’s pretty clear that loss of forest cover and human persecution are the most likely reasons for the demise of the lynx. Having the lynx may restore natural ecological processes to Britain’s forests.
One of the main reasons for reintroducing lynx is that they prey on roe deer and could keep the population down in areas where trees are being planted. Through the ecology of fear Top predators, such as wolf and lynx, keep animals on the move, ultimately they change the behaviour of animals which prevents devastating behaviours such as overgrazing. This allows vegetation to establish. This makes predatory species an important part of our ecosystems. Unless sheep are kept in woodland, lynx will not prey on them as they rarely hunt in the open. The risk of predation to sheep is greatest where fields border woodland, but even then it is highly unusual. The lynx rarely hunts in the open so unless sheep are kept in the woodland the risk of predation is low. The majority of forest in Scotland contains no sheep, and the majority of sheep are grazed in open habitats. If fields border woodlands the risk increases, so the distance between pasture and woodland is important. Where livestock-guarding dogs and intensive shepherding are employed, depredations are very low. The lynx has advantages over the wolf.
The lynx is not a threat to human safety (nor is a wolf) but it is not perceived as a threat like the wolf and doesn’t come with as much cultural baggage.. Its size isn’t intimidating and there’s no recorded attacks on people in Europe. Unlike Wolves that hunt in packs the lynx are solitary, humans tend to perceive pack species as a greater threat.
Britain needs to make way for changes such as these. We need to start tolerating wildlife, and wildlife we aren’t use to. Nature isn’t linear, it’s not a garden with perfect pretty hedges, nature is cyclical, nature is wild. The lynx can teach us increase our tolerance of predatory animals, can alleviate our fears. The lynx could even path the way for the wolf.