LYNX UK Trust has hit out at the National Sheep Association and what they describe as their ‘reality-defying claims that six lynx will threaten the UK’s sheep industry and food security’.

This comes on the back of the trust's application for a trial reintroduction of Eurasian lynx in the Kielder Forest region of England and Scotland. The trust has outlined a sheep welfare programme, aimed at providing farmers with grants aimed at boosting flock health and reduce sheep predation.

The National Animal Disease Information Service has released figures estimating millions of lamb deaths occur in the UK every year which they believe are often avoidable with the provision of better shelter, nutrition and healthcare, pointed out the trust’s communications advisor, Steve Piper 

He added: “This can only be the result of chronic under-funding and there’s little to no leadership on tackling the problem. 

“The NSA has had almost nothing to say on the millions of lambs lost to welfare problems. I consider that extremely poor representation of the industry; sheep farming needs solutions to the problems it faces, not scaremongering.

“A sheep welfare grant program funded by lynx eco-tourism can help local farmers with things like building lambing shelters, delivering vaccinations and other critical early-life care and maintaining fencing to reduce road kills – basics they need to do the exceptional job everyone knows British farmers are capable of. Even a small improvement would mean a lot more healthy sheep and a huge reduction in financial losses.”

Since Lynx UK Trust began its lynx reintroduction project two years ago, the farming industry, vocally led by the NSA, has focused on the threat to sheep, and the Trust have maintained the threat is minimal.

“Farmers are sceptical and I understand that; many predators cause much more damage, and science is often misrepresented to farmers and the wider general public” explained Mr Piper. 

“But we are quoting real-world examples and the studies are consistent; lynx are ambush hunters, they need forest cover to do that, and so their diet is almost all roe deer killed in the forest.

“Of course, the sheep farming sector’s concerns have been rigorously recorded and submitted with the application. Their feedback has been critical shaping our application to ensure local farmers get a significant benefit from a lynx trial, resulting in a sheep welfare programme covering health, disease and predation, funded from lynx eco-tourism.”

The Trust plan to establish a visitor centre in Kielder acting as a hub for local tourism operators as well as collecting money from tourists to help fund the trial.

“Lynx are difficult animals to see,” says Piper, “but that’s part of the charisma that draws people to try. The eco-tourism potential in Kielder is certainly worth millions of pounds over a five year trial. 

"We’ll help advise interested farmers on how they can take advantage of that, but what we really want to ensure is that some of the money is going directly to helping with the biggest threats to sheep; exposure, disease and malnutrition.”

The trust would also intend to use the trial to study ways of tackling what they consider to be the other big concern in sheep farming – predation by any species.

Monitoring the lynx population and trying to prevent predation of sheep are fundamental aspects of the project and two key studies will survey predatory killing, maiming, and stressing of sheep leading to problems like miscarriage, then carry out detailed trials of preventative measures.

Steve Piper also spoke on what would happen if sheep were killed: “If the lynx do kill any sheep, then compensation must be paid, no question.

“The NSA, unfortunately, refused an invitation to advise on a programme, though individual farmers have talked to us about concerns like a lynx killing a valuable tup and how that could be valued or proven. 

“The productive, profitable and progressive farming sector envisioned by the NFU cannot be found in more subsidies or the NSA grandstanding in the farming press, but it could be found in a partnership built between farming and lynx reintroduction. 

"Farmers may not believe us, but we want this to work for them.

"Everything we’ve looked at tells us that tying the allure of the lynx to local farming in ways like these can bring incredibly positive results for the farmers, their animals and the wildlife living alongside them; and that’s the lynx effect we want to see in Kielder,” he added.