The return of the missing lynx: Could reintroducing this solitary wild cat be beneficial to the British countryside?
Rewilding is the attempt to return land to a more natural state. Sadly, there is not one patch of land in the UK that has not been altered in some way by humans. This is due, in part, to the idealised view many people have of our countryside and management schemes responding by keeping fields and woodlands neat and tidy. This has resulted in a landscape that is so far removed from what it was originally; it’s no longer able to support the wildlife that should be there.
Around six thousand years ago, 75 per cent of Britain’s landscape was covered by forest. These woods were home to as many as seven thousand lynx. It’s an image almost unrecognisable today as only 13 per cent of the UK is forested land – this is just one third of the Europe average.
The primary reason for the decline in habitat has been attributed to the loss of predator species and the subsequent increase in ungulates. Heavy grazing from deer and the encroachment of sheep into woodland prevents regeneration, creating the large expanse of open spaces we see today.
The health of an ecosystem is controlled from the top down. Also known as a ‘trophic cascade’. Apex predators, like the lynx, control the numbers of large herbivores and mid-level predators, which in turn relieves pressure on the smaller animals and plants further down the chain.
The topic of releasing wild carnivores often causes a knee-jerk reaction. Of course, a release would begin with a trial of a select few collared individuals and any trials would first have to be talked about in a sensible and scientific manner with all outcomes planned for and an exit strategy in place. However, lynx introductions in other areas of Europe suggest a rewilding programme in the UK has the potential to be successful.
Expert opinion – Lynx UK Trust
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Lynx UK Trust tells us why we should seriously be considering reintroducing the lynx.
The lynx is crucial to restoring the health of forest ecosystems. Forest regeneration has effectively stopped due to overgrazing by deer whose populations are growing out of control. Lynx will help to bring some much needed balance. [They] are also massive ecotourism draws and have the ability to drive economic regeneration in rural areas. However, perhaps the best reason is that lynx have the power to inspire and engage people about conservation and the countryside and they will make Britain feel like a wild place again.
Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje