NEW EFFORTS to promote the reintroduction of lynx into the Scottish Highlands have been dismissed by both farmers and ScotGov.

A new year-long study, ‘Lynx to Scotland,’ is underway by a partnership of charities including Scotland: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust, to assess people’s views about the possible reintroduction of Eurasian lynx as a means to control deer populations.

Advocates for their return believe the species' deer predation would help regenerate natural woodlands. However, livestock farmers have warned of the devastation this could potentially pose to their flocks.

Oban hill farmer and NFU Scotland’s Environment and Land Use Committee chairman, Angus MacFadyen, was keen to reassure farmers and crofters that whatever emerges from the study, it will not equate to an application for lynx release in Scotland: “In our opinion, no local consensus nor political consensus has ever been secured. This latest survey in Scotland is unlikely to change that, given farmers and livestock predation were not included in its launch release.

"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,” he explained.

Highland Perthshire hill farmer and NFUS vice president Martin Kennedy took part in a study trip to Norway in 2017, where he heard that Norwegian authorities had 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.”

Due to the pressures of predation, he reported that around 1000 hill farmers had given up in the past 10 years. “The Norwegians told us that to reintroduce predators into our country would be an absolute catastrophe,” he continued. “Their experience has simply strengthened our resolve.”

Almost three years ago to the very day, Scottish rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said lynx would be reintroduced over 'his dead body'. A spokesperson confirmed: “The Scottish Government has absolutely no plans to reintroduce lynx to Scotland. Any private organisation wishing to release lynx in Scotland would need a licence from NatureScot. Any applications to release large carnivores in Scotland would be very carefully scrutinised and we would ensure that the views of all those who would be likely to be affected were properly taken into account.”

However, the charities behind the new study believe that lynx must be considered for conservation purposes. “With a global biodiversity crisis, we have a responsibility to have open and constructive conversations around restoring key native species to the Scottish landscape – and science shows that apex predators like lynx play a vital ecological role in maintaining healthy living systems,” said Peter Cairns, executive director of Scotland: The Big Picture.

Citing research that suggests the Highlands has sufficient habitat to support around 400 wild lynx, the charities stressed that roe deer is the species' preferred prey: “Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and healthy regeneration of our natural woodlands,” said chief executive of Trees for Life, Steve Micklewright. “By preying on roe deer, lynx would restore ecological processes that have been missing for centuries, and provide a free and efficient deer management service.”

Jenny MacPherson of the Vincent Wildlife Trust, which will lead the study, added: “Reintroducing lynx would inevitably bring challenges. ‘Lynx to Scotland’ will actively include stakeholders representing the full range of perspectives, in order to produce meaningful conclusions about the level of support or tolerance for lynx, and therefore, the likely success of any future reintroduction.”

Mr Cairns added: “It may be that this study shows that the Scottish public isn’t ready to live alongside a top predator, in which case we will know that and we will walk away."