ADVOCATES of the plan to reintroduce lynx into the UK countryside have hit back at secretary of state Michael Gove's rebuff of their plans.

Mr Gove turned down the application to release six Eurasian lynx into the Kielder Forest area in the north of England, citing a long list of concerns about the credibility of both the project and the bodies behind it.

Chief scientific advisor for Lynx UK Trust, Dr Paul O'Donoghue, hit back this week, rejecting suggestions that there had been any confusion over 'what precisely we had applied to do'.

"We applied for a time limited, small scale, five year trial release of six lynx into the Kielder area, which could be stopped at any point by triggering the exit strategy and recapturing the lynx," said the campaigner. "We have not applied for a full reintroduction, just to gather the data to inform such an application.

"The ecology and ecological impact of lynx, both in persistent and reintroduced populations, is well documented throughout Europe with a large body of scientific data available, outlined and referenced in detail in our application. Further ecological impacts were considered and risk assessed, with particular attention and detail in key areas of concern such as likely impacts of lynx on other wild, agricultural and protected species, and found that in nearly all cases the impact was likely to be neutral or positive."

Mr Gove had taken expert advice from Natural England, which concluded that the application did not meet the necessary standards and had 'failed to give confidence' that the project would meet its stated aims.

Dr O'Donoghue retorted: "Our trial is not a full reintroduction or a vast and intractable infrastructure change such as HS2 or a new runway at Heathrow; it's a temporary trial for a native species as much a part of our ecology and environment as a hedgehog or a robin, but with far more potential to improve that ecology through the trophic cascade effect apex species bring.

He also detailed support from people in the area in question: "We have provided letters of support from a range of local community sectors including local businesses – particularly those associated with tourism – local wildlife groups and local people clearly evidencing a broad local buy in. We offered to send dozens of further similar letters to NE on November 12, but they were not requested.

"Support was even evidenced from some local sheep farmers; the one section of the local community that has raised any significant concerns over the project," he claimed.

"As a Secretary of State you are in a privileged position to grant permission for a project that would benefit both the environment and the economy alike," concluded Dr O'Donoghue. "This is an opportunity to create real hope that the ecology of this island can be restored to the benefit of everyone that lives and works here. I would like to request a meeting with you and Natural England to further discuss the decision and the perspectives laid out above so that we can decide our next step. I, and all of the team at the Lynx UK Trust, remain as committed and determined as ever to see lynx given their chance to return."