BIG CATS would be released on Ben Lomond under a new plan being pushed by the 'rewilding' charity, the Lynx UK Trust.

Over recent years, the controversial trust, led by Dr Paul O’Donoghue, has been attempting to put the reintroduction of lynx, a species extinct in Scotland for over 1000 years, onto the political agenda, arguing that the predator would benefit the environment by reducing deer numbers, and in turn encouraging forest regrowth.

Those efforts have so far been roundly rebuffed, with the trust's first formal application for a re-release trial, in the Kielder Forest that sits across the Scotland-England border, rejected by both the Scottish and English governments in 2018. Scotland's minister for rural affairs, Fergus Ewing, is firmly on the record saying that there will be no lynx release on his watch.

Read more - Lynx reintroduction bid rejected

However, the trust's strategy may be to try, try and try again, and hope that repeated headlines about the possibility of lynx release may gradually shift public and political opinion, by normalising the idea in people's minds.

Thus today it has once again declared the launch of a public consultation on its new target reintroduction site – the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, which sits on the east bank of Loch Lomond, roughly mapped out as a triangle from Drymen in the south, north-west to Inversnaid and east to Callander.

NFU Scotland did not mince its words in reaction to this news. Its Environment and Land Use Committee chairman, Angus MacFadyen, a hill farmer from Oban said: “NFU Scotland remains crystal clear that any proposals to re-introduce predators such as lynx are wholly unacceptable to Scottish farmers and crofters.

“The past three to four years have seen a long line of brazen and presumptuous claims from Lynx UK Trust about the imminent reintroduction of lynx to the UK. Its only application to date, to reintroduce lynx to Kielder, was rejected. A sham consultation exercise from that single issue group already took place in Loch Lomond, Argyll and the Highlands last year with NFUS members in attendance," recalled Mr MacFadyen.

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“Farmers and crofters can be reassured that whatever emerges from this group does not, in any way, equate to an application for release in Scotland. Were that to ever happen, we can categorically reassure our members that the process for securing permission for the trial release of lynx is long and complex and any application will be subject to considerable analysis and debate.

“In our opinion, no local consensus nor political consensus has ever been secured and this latest supposed ‘consultation’ in Scotland by a discredited organisation will not change that," he said. "Farmers and crofters in Scotland can be confident that the union, as a member of the Scottish National Species Reintroduction Forum, will take all necessary steps to ensure their interests are protected were a formal application ever to be made.”

NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy, a hill farmer from Highland Perthshire, added: “On a study trip to Norway in Autumn 2017, an NFUS delegation heard that Norwegian authorities paid out compensation on 20,000 sheep lost to predators. Of the sheep killed in Norway, wolverine accounted for around 34% of losses with the lynx, bear and wolf accounting for 21%, 15% and 9% respectively.

“Feverish press coverage of previous proposals to reintroduce lynx saw a welcome commitment in public from Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing that he would never support such a reintroduction," noted Mr Kennedy.

“Predation in Norway has reduced over the past decade – not because of fewer predators, but the fact that hill farmers have simply stopped keeping sheep. The Norwegian NFU believe that around 1000 hill farmers have given up in the 10 years as they simply cannot carry on at the levels of predation.

“The Norwegians told us that to reintroduce predators into our country would be an absolute catastrophe," he stressed. "Their experience has simply strengthened our resolve.”

Read more - Norwegian lessons on livestock predators

In its latest announcement, the Lynx UK Trust has asserted that Eurasian lynx are 'something of a success story' in European conservation, with over 10,000 of them at large, and once again claimed that they are 'not significant livestock predators', with an average kill rate across Europe of 0.4 sheep, per lynx, per year.

With regard to the species' suitability to the hills above Loch Lomond, Dr O’Donoghue said: "The Queen Elizabeth Forest park is a lynx paradise, it ticks all the boxes; high deer densities, extensive forest cover, extremely low human population density and no major roads. We have identified a 350 square kilometre project area site after discussion with Scottish Natural Heritage.

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"It is vital to point out that we hope to develop widespread community support for our plans. This will not be imposed on anyone, rather we see this as an opportunity to build strong networks with partners and stakeholders to deliver what is undoubtedly, the most exciting and large scale conservation project ever proposed in Scotland."

A spokeswoman for SNH confirmed that the nature and environment body was aware of Lynx UK Trust's plans to submit a licence application for the reintroduction of lynx – but stressed that licence applicants did not require 'approval or agreement' from SNH to hold a consultation or submit an application, and that SNH had given no such approval or endorsement to the project which, like any other application, would be assessed in line with its licencing responsibilities.
“We met with the organisation on March 9 for an informal pre-application discussion at the request of the applicant," said the SNH spokeswoman. "During the meeting we clarified what information would be expected to support an application to reintroduce lynx to Scotland, in line with the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.
“We are aware that there are strong views about these proposals and, in the event that an application is submitted, would expect extensive consultation to take place to ensure plans take the views of the public, livestock and land managers into account along with any socio-economic and cross border impacts.” 

Lynx UK Trust's own consultation exercise will begin with an open meeting to be held between 2 and 4pm on September 9 at the Forth Inn, Main St, Aberfoyle, Stirling. More information can be found on the website at