Lynx are Labrador-sized felines that were hunted to extinction in Britain many centuries ago. Is now the time to bring them back to Scotland?
Lynx are one of the larger predators that are missing from Scotland. Top predators, like lynx, are known as keystone species because they have significant impacts on the environment in which they live. Many think that their reintroduction could help forests regenerate because of their impact on deer numbers and behaviour. They are shy, forest-dwelling animals that mainly ambush roe deer for food. Research indicates that the Highlands of Scotland could support a population of around 400 wild lynx.
While the science shows there is enough habitat and plenty of roe deer to sustain a healthy population of lynx in Scotland, the main barriers to reintroduction are concerns about their possible impact on people and livelihoods. Working with SCOTLAND: The Big Picture and Vincent Wildlife Trust, Trees for Life commissioned the first impartial social feasibility study about lynx reintroduction. While we were all willing to walk away from lynx reintroduction if the study showed that the time was not right, the study's report makes interesting and rather hopeful reading.
One hundred interviews and several online webinars enabled us to gather views from many national stakeholders, including farmers, gamekeepers, foresters, conservationists, landowners, tourism operators and rural communities. Four community events gauged interest in lynx reintroduction in the Cairngorms National Park and Argyll.
A detailed analysis of all the information gathered showed that there are five different perspectives about lynx reintroduction to Scotland which we have described as:
Lynx for change - these are people who feel we are ready for lynx and they are a vital part of the change we need in our relationship with nature.
No to lynx - these stakeholders believe there is no need for lynx and they don’t want them back.
Scotland is not ready – those who support the conversation, but think Scotland is not ready for the return of lynx.
We are not convinced – those who are open to discussing lynx reintroduction, but they feel it must be better justified.
Lynx for the economy - this group supports the return of missing species and think lynx will be a boon for local economies.
This analysis is very different from the usual polarised 'for' and 'against' arguments that you might read about lynx reintroduction in the media. It demonstrates the high level of engagement and interest in lynx, even among those whose minds are apparently made up.
The main conclusion of this work is that there is sufficient appetite from a diverse cross-sector of rural stakeholders to examine whether potential barriers to a trial reintroduction of Eurasian lynx to Scotland can be overcome. We are now planning to set up a Lynx Action Group to build trust among stakeholders, examine the scientific evidence, gather local knowledge and especially discuss the barriers and possible solutions required if lynx are to be reintroduced.
In terms of the views of those who might have most to gain or feel they have most to lose from the return of lynx, we are in the realm of 'not yet – but not never.' And there is a real desire for constructive and thoughtful discussions.
The wider context is important too. Opinion polling by Survation for the Scottish Rewilding Alliance in 2020 showed that 52% of people in Scotland support lynx reintroduction, with 19% opposed. The Scottish Government now includes Green Party ministers and their manifesto for the 2021 Holyrood elections explicitly called for a trial reintroduction of lynx. It seems that if - and it is still a very big 'if' - the very legitimate concerns of those who feel lynx will impact their livelihoods can be overcome, 'now' may be closer than we might think.
Lynx to Scotland was kindly funded by the Coller Foundation, Lund and Wildland.
Photos by SCOTLAND: The Big Picture