Wild lynx to return to UK after 1,300 years

Walking among humans? Four animals that could be reintroduced into Britain’s countryside.

Lynx have long been extinct in the UK, but a new scheme aims to bring them back. Should we repopulate the planet with lost predators, or is ‘rewilding’ a fantasy fuelled by nostalgia?

Britain today is generally seen as a mild and orderly country of patchwork farms and sprawling suburbs. But that was not always the case. Once upon a time it was an untamed land of ancient forests where fearsome mammals roamed free. And among these beasts was a razor-toothed wild cat called the lynx — the third largest predator native to Europe.

The lynx’s heyday is long gone. Deforestation and the human penchant for hunting drove the animals to extinction, and more than a millennium has passed since the animals were common on the island.

Now, however, that could all be set to change. In what has been called the ‘most ambitious rewilding’ scheme ever in the UK, the Lynx UK Trust proposes to release between four and six Eurasian lynx into three unfenced areas in England and Scotland.

The scheme is intended to rebalance the British ecosystem, which has been destabilised by a sharp decline in biodiversity. The dearth of natural predators has allowed deer to flourish. The expanding herds damage woodland by overgrazing; they destroy natural habitats and eat the eggs of rare birds.

By keeping deer populations under control, researchers hope that lynx could rejuvenate an entire ecosystem. ‘The British countryside is dying and lynx will bring it back to life’, said one.

But the rewilding may not stop there. The writer and naturalist George Monbiot is leading a growing chorus of voices calling for a full scale rewilding of the British countryside. The most zealous rewilders want to bring back not only lynx, but also wolves, moose, bison and even bears. And for Monbiot , this is not simply a matter of tweaking the ecosystem: ‘it’s about abandoning the biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.’

Not everybody, however, is so convinced. Farmers worry that wild animals such as lynx would wreak havoc on their livestock. Other predators, such as wolves and bears, could even pose a threat to human life.

A wild idea

This is nothing but a romantic fantasy, say opponents of rewilding, fuelled by misplaced nostalgia for a darker, more dangerous age. There is a reason why humans hunted lynx and wolves to extinction: they are dangerous predators that cannot live in close proximity to humans without posing a nuisance, or even a serious threat.

But ardent environmentalists like George Monbiot see rewilding as a chance to salvage the glories of a world less sullied by destructive humanity. By salvaging our lost species, he believes, we can rediscover our relationship with the natural world: ‘rewilding the ecosystem offers us a chance to rewild our own lives as well.’

You Decide

  1. If you could reintroduce one animal to your country, what would it be and why?
  2. Is a country better off without predators that pose a threat to human safety and the economy?

Activities

  1. In pairs, role-play an argument between a farmer and a conservationist about whether wolves and lynx should be returned to your local area.
  2. Write a paragraph explaining how the introduction of a predator can help an ecosystem. It may be useful to include a diagram.

Some People Say...

“Wilderness is a resource which can shrink but not grow.”

Robert Macfarlane

What do you think?

Q & A

A wild cat roving our footpaths — wouldn’t that be dangerous?
Surprisingly not. There is no known instance of a lynx preying on humans, because it has a solitary and secretive nature — the animal is nicknamed the ‘keeper of secrets’ due to its elusive and mysterious ways. The trust says that they wouldn’t even consider such a scheme if they thought lynx posed a threat to humans.
Does rewilding actually work?
Yes, there is evidence that it works. A park in Wyoming, USA, reintroduced 41 wild grey wolves into its ecosystem, which moved deer around, restoring trees and vegetation, as well as attracting new animals to the park. It stabilised the riverbanks, decreased erosion of the rivers, and brought beavers to the park.

Word Watch

Deforestation
This is the process where natural forests are cleared by humans, destroying natural habitats and posing a threat to wildlife.
Ecosystem
An ecosystem is a community of living organisms, interacting with one another and the non-living components of their environment, such as water. Any ecosystem has a fine balance, and the removal or addition of one element can drastically alter it. For instance, at Yellowstone Park, introducing wolves affected many animals, as well as vegetation and rivers.
Biodiversity
This refers to the degree of variation in an ecosystem’s plant and animal life.
Deer
Deer have no natural predator in the wild, which is why their population is soaring. They tend to graze in concentrated areas, so introducing lynx and reducing the deer population will help wildlife to grow. They are also the cause of between 10 and 20 deaths every year due to collisions with cars.
Dominion
Humans’ attempt to control nature is often referred to as dominion. The Book of Genesis says that man should have dominion over animals. Rewilding attempts to do quite the opposite.

Subjects

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