The wild lynx has been extinct in Britain for the past 1,300 years but an ambitious "rewilding" project could bring back the forest-dwelling creature to roam the woods once again.

The Lynx UK Trust has already launched a public consultation to determine the public's reaction to the scheme. Once approved, the big cats that primarily prey on deer as well as rabbits and hares could be released into private, unfenced estates in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and in the counties of Cumbria in the northwest, home of the Lake District, and Norfolk on the eastern coast of England.

The Trust wanted to gauge the public's reaction before proceeding to file a formal application with the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Natural England. Trust science adviser Paul O'Donoghue described the lynx as a magical animal and one of the world's most beautiful cats, whose absence makes the country a poorer place.

"The lynx is one of the most enigmatic, beautiful cats on the planet," O'Donoghue said. "The British countryside is dying and lynx will bring it back to life."

The Eurasian lynx is the biggest of the lynx species, marked by powerful and long legs. The animal is also characterized by furry, webbed paws. Because of the feline's solitary and secretive nature, it is not considered a threat to humans. The cats range in size from 80 to 130 cm, or 2 to 4 feet, and range in weight from 10 to 40 kilograms, or about 22 to 88 pounds.

Once reintroduced, the lynx could help control the population of over one million wild deer in Britain. Wild deer do not have natural predators and large populations pose some problems, including overgrazing. They also eat the eggs of nests that are placed in low areas such as on the ground or in bushes.

Some individuals welcome the reintroduction of the animal in Britain, saying that the experiment may help with the problems posed by the deer. Tony Marmont of the Grumack Forest in Aberdeenshire said that the cats would have an "extremely beneficial effect" on the ecosystems of the forest and that they could serve as "ambassadors" for conservation projects.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU), however, has expressed concern about the effects of the experimental move on the forest's ecosystem. Earlier reintroduction plans have been opposed by farmers, who cited that lynx and birds of prey attack gamebirds and livestock. A subsidy program would be in place to protect farmers near the reintroduction sites, the trust noted, and as forest dwellers the cats would have little contact with farm animals.

NFU director of policy Andrew Clark said that they are concerned about the animal's reintroduction because of the costs and risks of failure. He also pointed out that given the limited funding, it would be better to focus the budget on retaining and developing the existing biodiversity.

Photo: Tom Bech | Flickr 

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