Lynx are to be reintroduced into the wild in Britain after a 1,300-year absence, under an ambitious “rewilding” plan drawn up by a conservation charity.
The Lynx UK Trust would release up to 18 of the cats onto private estates in Aberdeenshire, Cumbria and Norfolk if the idea is given the go-ahead by Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage.
The predators eat deer, rabbits and hares among other animals but are not considered a risk to people as they tend to stay away from humans.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, who advises the trust, told The Sunday Times: “The lynx is one of the most enigmatic, beautiful cats on the planet. The British countryside is dying, and lynx will bring it back to life.”
Animals in decline
Animals in decline
1/8 Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)
Where: Orkney Islands. What: Between 2001-2006, numbers in Orkney declined by 40 per cent. Why: epidemics of the phocine distemper virus are thought to have caused major declines, but the killing of seals in the Moray Firth to protect salmon farms may have an impact.
2/8 African lion (Panthera leo)
Where: Ghana. What: In Ghana’s Mole National Park, lion numbers have declined by more than 90 per cent in 40 years. Why: local conflicts are thought to have contributed to the slaughter of lions and are a worrying example of the status of the animal in Western and Central Africa.
3/8 Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Where: Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Costa Rica. What: Numbers are down in both the Atlantic and Pacific. It declined by 95 per cent between 1989-2002 in Costa Rica. Why: mainly due to them being caught as bycatch, but they’ve also been affected by local developments.
4/8 Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans)
Where: South Atlantic. What: A rapid decline. One population, from Bird Island, South Georgia, declined by 50 per cent between 1972-2010, according to the British Antarctic Survey. Why: being caught in various commercial longline fisheries.
5/8 Saiga Antelope (Saiga tatarica)
Where: Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. What: fall in populations has been dramatic. In the early 1990s numbers were over a million, but are now estimated to be around 50,000. Why: the break up of the former USSR led to uncontrolled hunting. Increased rural poverty means the species is hunted for its meat
6/8 Swordfish (Xiphias gladius)
Where: found worldwide in tropical, subtropical and temperate seas. Why: at risk from overfishing and as a target in recreational fishing. A significant number of swordfish are also caught by illegal driftnet fisheries in the Mediterranean
7/8 Argali Sheep (Ovis mammon)
Where: Central and Southern Asian mountains,usually at 3,000-5,000 metres altitude. Why: domesticated herds of sheep competing for grazing grounds. Over-hunting and poaching.
8/8 Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)
Where: the Indo-Pacific, from the Red Sea to South Africa and to the Tuamoto Islands (Polynesia), north to the Ryukyu Islands (south-west Japan), and south to New Caledonia. Why: Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing and trading of the species
Ecologists have increasingly begun to realise the importance of top predators for the whole of the ecosystem. For example, when wolves were released in Yellowstone National Park in the US, the make-up of the flowers in the area changed.
And, in the UK, there have been problems with the burgeoning numbers of deer, partly because of the lack of predators.
Tony Marmont, who wants to see lynx in Grumack Forest, which he owns, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, told the Times: “Lynx will have an extremely beneficial effect on our forest ecosystems, both directly and as ambassadors for wider conservation projects.
“I also believe we should try to reintroduce an animal that humans made extinct here.”