Lynx num­bers

Argyllshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

Sir, Lynx num­bers are on the rise in Europe, through nat­u­ral coloni­sa­tion and rein­tro­duc­tions, spark­ing calls for the species’ re­turn to Bri­tain. While this may be un­de­sir­able for some, tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits would in­clude help­ing to con­trol the dam­ag­ing ef­fects of deer in com­mer­cial wood­land, and op­por­tu­ni­ties to boost Scot­land’s ap­peal for nature based tourism.

Rein­tro­duc­ing lynx would be a mile­stone for Bri­tish nature con­ser­va­tion. By prey­ing on roe deer, they could play a vi­tal role in main­tain­ing healthy wood­lands. But the lynx’s re­turn could bring chal­lenges too, so a re­spect­ful di­a­logue with those who live and work in the coun­try­side is es­sen­tial be­fore any rein­tro­duc­tion could ever hap­pen.

Ev­i­dence sug­gests that lynx sur­vived in Bri­tain un­til af­ter the Mid­dle Ages. The High­lands may be where it held out long­est, and this is also where a mod­ern-day lynx pop­u­la­tion could live, given the area’s abun­dance of for­est and wood­land deer as prey. Pre­vi­ous re­search in­di­cates that the High­lands could sup­port a pop­u­la­tion of at least 400 wild lynx.

Fol­low­ing cen­turies of de­cline due to de­for­esta­tion, per­se­cu­tion and over­hunt­ing, the lynx has been rein­tro­duced to sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries since the 1970s – in­clud­ing in busy ar­eas more densely populated than the High­lands, and which are used for farm­ing, hunt­ing, forestry and tourism. The lynx’s shy­ness and small size mean at­tacks on hu­mans are vir­tu­ally un­known.

In Scot­land, there would be scope for con­flict be­tween lynx and hu­man hunters of deer, but prob­a­bly less so than in other coun­tries, where there are fewer deer and more hunters. Im­pact on red deer stalk­ing is un­likely to be sig­nif­i­cant be­cause lynx are shy am­bush-hunters, which avoid open ar­eas and in­stead pre­fer smaller wood­land deer such as roe and sika. Lynx also avoid red deer stags, which are most sought af­ter by hu­man hunters.

At­tacks by lynx on sheep grazed in open pas­ture are rel­a­tively rare, but oc­ca­sion­ally hap­pen. Switzer­land’s 250 lynx cause live­stock losses of 20 to 50 an­i­mals each year, while prey­ing on 12,500 wild roe deer and chamois an­nu­ally. Nev­er­the­less, farm­ers here would need to be re­as­sured that neg­a­tive lo­cal im­pacts could be man­aged.

This could be achieved by us­ing and adapt­ing meth­ods tested in other coun­tries for years – such as live­stock pro­tec­tion mea­sures, com­pen­sa­tion schemes, and even lethal con­trol.

Based on ev­i­dence from other coun­tries, there would be no sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on threat­ened species such as wild­cats and ca­per­cail­lie. Mean­while, lynx are known to rou­tinely prey on foxes, which do prey on ca­per­cail­lie and can com­pete with wild­cats for food.

A ma­jor ben­e­fit of a healthy lynx pop­u­la­tion would be to re­duce the im­pacts and costs of brows­ing by deer. Scot­land’s high num­bers of wood­land deer – which cur­rently lack nat­u­ral preda­tors – can have a costly im­pact on forestry and on wildlife habi­tats through heavy brows­ing.

Lynx could of­fer op­por­tu­ni­ties for Scot­land’s tourism in­dus­try, es­pe­cially im­por­tant in eco­nom­i­cally frag­ile ar­eas such as the High­lands. Nature-based tourism is grow­ing, and has been cal­cu­lated to have a di­rect eco­nomic ben­e­fit to Scot­land of £1.4 bil­lion and 39,000 full-time jobs an­nu­ally. David Hether­ing­ton Ecol­o­gist and au­thor of The Lynx and Us A lynx pic­tured in the Jura Moun­tains in Switzer­land.

Cri­nan Ho­tel owner Nick Ryan passed away on Wed­nes­day April 4 fol­low­ing a bat­tle with de­men­tia.

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