Could Scotland really see the reintroduction of large carnivores to the Highlands?

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Campaigners pushing for the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx to Scotland are celebrating the results of a year-long consultation to gauge public opinion on their ambitious plans.

The Lynx to Scotland study, conducted between March 2021 and February 2022, suggests there is enough public appetite to further explore the potential benefits and barriers to the reintroduction of big cats, which have been from Scotland over 500 years ago.

The study conducted research with rural actors in Cairngorms National Park and Argyll, which were identified as habitats where populations of the apex predator could thrive.

Previous research has confirmed that the Highlands has enough habitat and suitable prey to support a population of around 400 wild lynx. These big cats are a keystone species, which means the introduction of even a small number of them can have a big impact on the environment.

However, charities pushing for the reintroduction of the lynx say the success of the project “depends more on people’s attitudes than on ecological science”.

Why there’s a big debate about big cats in Scotland

Farmers, game wardens, foresters, ecologists, land owners, tourism operators and rural communities were among the groups asked for their input. The research was organized in partnership with SCOTLAND charities: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust.

Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest concerns highlighted by the study – and particularly from the farming community – was the potential harm to sheep. A consensus was reached that any further exploration of possible reintroduction should seek ways to mitigate this risk.

However, the study also highlighted the positive impact the lynx could have on local ecosystems.

“Proponents of lynx reintroduction predict that by predicting woodland deer, lynx will contribute to nutrient cycling, regeneration of vegetation and trees, and provision of carcasses for other species,” the report says. report.

Conservationists also believed that the lynx could help protect feral cat populations by controlling foxes and feral cats. And by hunting capercaillie, the lynx could potentially help solve another predation problem naturally, as capercaillie in turn prey on rare wild birds.

Who is against the reintroduction of the lynx?

The actors against the reintroduction of the lynx, or who believe Scotland not ready for this, thought it was unrealistic to hope that big cats could help self-regulate ecosystems in the contemporary world Scottish landscape.

According to them, it is very doubtful that the introduction of a large carnivore can replace human intervention, such as the slaughter of deer.

Some estate owners believed the reintroduction of the lynx could jeopardize their hunting business, with one estate putting a price tag of €475 on each roe deer – the big cat‘s favorite prey – rising to as high as €1,785 for the largest males. taken.

“When it comes to the return of the lynx, we are in the realm of not yet – but not ever,” says Peter Cairns, Executive Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.

“Positively, this new research shows that there is enough appetite among various stakeholders to develop a more comprehensive understanding of this little-known species and the potential for its return to the world. Scotland.”

Separate research carried out for the Scottish Rewilding Alliance in 2020 found that 52% of Scots support the reintroduction of the lynx, while 19% oppose it.

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