Friday, 13 October 2017

Will or Should the Lynx return?

Eurasian Lynx (By miep CC-BY-SA-2.0-DE)

Those that have followed my blog will know that I am interested in the principles of Rewilding. One of the pillars of rewilding is the reintroduction of species to complete an ecosystems assemblage. I am still gathering my thoughts on where rewilding should fit into the conservation landscape and so I am trying to read articles and books as they come up. Last week a short blog post brought my attention to the reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx to the UK.

Reintroductions in the UK have a fairly good record, Red Kites and Sea eagles are good examples of success stories and current projects include beavers, bustards and cranes. Further possible reintroductions include wolves, which has been under discussion for years and the Lynx.
The Eurasian Lynx is native across Scandinavia, Turkey and Russia into Asia and is already the topic of reintroduction programmes in France, Germany Italy, Austria, Slovenia and Switzerland (Harris and Yalden, 2008). The Eurasian Lynx first appeared in the fossil record in the Devensian (Pleistocene Ice Age). It was common across Europe and Asia up until the fall of the Roman Empire when human interactions caused their extinction in several places including the UK. The last recorded date was in c.450AD in North Yorkshire Harris and Yalden, 2008).

Distribution Map of the Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian Lynx lives in primarily deciduous, mixed or coniferous woodland but can be successful in open sparsely wooded, semi-deserts and thick scrub. Interestingly compared to other lynx species they do not prey mainly on lagomorphs (Rabbits and Hares) instead they are specialist hunters of deer and other ungulates which is where they bring them into competition with man, as a potential risk to livestock (Wilson and Mittermeier, 2009).

Lynx are one of the most charismatic species of cat, whilst they may lack the majesty and raw power of Lions, Leopards and Tigers they have a certain subtle charm which is leant to them by their elusive nature. On a practical basis, the Lynx is a good fit for UK ecology. We have all our large predators and deer numbers in the UK are too large, for many species culls are necessary to control populations. The Lynx could be a solution to this problem. Feeding mostly on deer will reduce their numbers and in doing so reduce the damage deer do to woods and young trees. In fact, the presence of lynx is correlated to the limitation of damage to forestry industries (Harris and Yalden, 2008). Male lynx typically have a territory size of 100-450 km2 which overlaps with the up to three female territories which are smaller at 45-250 km2 (Wilson and Mittermeier, 2009). 

These large territories and the possible conflict with sheep farmers would restrict their reintroduction to remote areas. Currently, the Lnyx UK Trust is investigating the viability of reintroduction through, research, education and eventually release. They already have an impressive list of stakeholders and have run detailed consultations and applications for trials in Scotland. This is a once native species which could undoubtedly have both environmental and socio-economic benefits, benefits which include the original articles premise that lynx could help boost tourism in release areas.

A Eurasian Lynx in Bavaria (By Aconagua CC-BY-SA-3.0)

There are of course problems; British people are unaccustomed to large predators in the wild, one of the key problems with attempts to reintroduce wolves. Lynx offer a less dangerous option than their canine but there is still an ingrained cultural perception that needs to be addressed. Whilst other reintroductions have been very successful, in France lynx took large numbers of sheep something they did not do over the border in Switzerland. Sheep farming is a key industry in this country and any reintroduction would need to assuage the fears of farmers.


My last point concerns the general principle, animal and plant assemblages are what make ecosystems work. Many of our habitats are in danger or unhealthy because they no longer support the balance of species that they once did, they lack that holy grail – biodiversity, however at what point do we decide species are needed. The reintroduction of the Beaver has a good case, it is an ecosystem engineer as well as a keystone species and can help control flooding, also it only recently became extinct. For a reintroduction relevance is important and I think the lynx’s ability to control deer numbers solves a problem in the UK, I would dearly love them to be part of our fauna again and would support any efforts to do so but in the back of my mind lurks the fear that perhaps the money and effort would be better spent on saving the species we currently have rather than bringing in old ones. Surely it is cheaper financially and ecologically to stop them going extinct in the first place rather than having to reintroduce them at great cost further down the line.

Harris.S and Yalden D (2008) Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th Edition. Mammal Society. Southampton

Wilson. D and Mittermeier. R (2009) Handbook of the Mammals of the World 1. Carnivores. Lynx Edicions. Barcelona.