Lynx are ‘free deer management’, says charity ahead of consultation on Highland reintroduction

Lynx could provide a free method for culling deer in the Scottish Highlands, a charity has said as it begins an extensive consultation on reintroducing the apex predator. 

Charities, Scotland: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust, will conduct a year long dialogue with landowners and residents before embarking on any plans. 

Hunting and habitat loss drove the native Eurasian lynx to extinction in Britain some 500 to 1,000 years ago, and many conservationists believe their reintroduction could boost wildlife diversity. 

“Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and healthy regeneration of our natural woodlands, Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life, said. “By preying on roe deer, lynx would restore ecological processes that have been missing for centuries, and provide a free and efficient deer management service.”

The group believes the Scottish Highlands have enough roe deer, which have no other natural predators aside from human hunters, to support the introduction of 400 lynx. 

Conservationists and the Forestry Commission have expressed concern that too few deer have been culled in recent months because of a drop in demand from restaurants that have been shut during the pandemic. 

Lynx reintroductions have proved successful in Europe as far back as the 1970s, but some farmers and rural communities in the UK remain hesitant. 

In 2018 a proposal from the Lynx Trust to introduce the wild cats to Kielder Forest in Northumberland was turned down by then Environment Secretary Michael Gove on the advice of Natural England.

But the conversation surrounding reintroductions has moved on in recent years, as the urgency of restoring biodiversity in the UK has risen up the agenda. 

Natural England head Tony Juniper, who was appointed two years ago, has spoken out in support of the introduction of lynx to keep deer numbers down. 

But Paul O’Donoghue, the director of the Lynx UK Trust, said a drawn-out consultation was inadequate given the urgency of boosting biodiversity. 

“The time for caution and five to 10 year timescales is long gone,” he said.