Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Time to bring back the lynx? Battle lines drawn over plans to re-introduce big #cat

By WMNJBayley  |  Posted: March 31, 2015
The European lynx, pictured here in Norway.  A conservation charity wants to reintroduce them to Britain
The European lynx, pictured here in Norway. A conservation charity wants to reintroduce them to Britain

The news this week that Britain is close to eradicating the alien ruddy duck raises questions about invasive species and what to do with them Philip Bowern reports.

The story of the ruddy duck is fascinating for anyone interested in the management of the countryside and our attitudes towards different species.

After a concerted effort to shoot the alien invaders – the offspring from original escapees from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust bird reserve at Slimbridge – Britain is reportedly down to its last 40 or so with eradication likely by the year’s end.

That’s important for conservationists because ruddy ducks can breed with the endangered white-headed duck creating a hybrid and putting the latter’s future in danger. They had already done so in Spain, prompting EU-wide efforts to control the ruddy duck, a water bird that comes originally from the United States. From a high point of around 6,000 birds, Government-authorised shooters have almost completed the job in the UK, although as the numbers fall the costs per duck of culling rise and now stand at around £4,200 per head.

A much bigger job is going on with the grey squirrel, numbered in the millions across the UK, which has all-but driven out the native red squirrel from the British countryside. Vigorous efforts, through shooting and trapping, to discourage nesting and breeding, are making a difference in some areas, notably West Cornwall, but hopes of eradicating the grey now look extremely unlikely. It was once an offence not to kill them on your land. Although that law has been rescinded, many people still work to reduce the numbers of greys and squirrel pie has become a new delicacy.

Other species, plant and animal, from Chinese mitten crabs to signal crayfish and Japanese knotweed to Himalayan balsam are also on the list of invaders to be eradicated. Yet there are creatures not currently native in the UK, like beavers, now back on the river Otter, and Lynx, which could be re-introduced on the Scottish hills, that are viewed very differently.

One justification put forward by those behind such re-introductions is that they were once part of the UK fauna and were driven out as a result of the interference of man. The beavers on the river Otter, for example, have been found to be genetically linked to animals that would once have inhabited the British Isles, although their return is opposed by some anglers and others concerned about the impact of beaver damns on the river system.

Lynx, like brown bears and wolves, would once have been found in the wild places of the north of England – although, to date, no one is suggesting we bring back the wolf or the bear. One organisation concerned about the potential return of the lynx is the National Sheep Association.

Bringing back the big cats would put livestock farming at risk, it says. Sporting estates in Scotland, which control red deer by stalking for which sportsmen will pay significant sums, are also concerned at the effect of lynx on herd numbers. The NSA’s Phil Stocker, chief executive of the organisation, has written to James Cross, head at Natural England, and also Lord De Mauley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Defra, who would have to approve plans to bring back the Lynx.

Mr Stocker said: “Our primary concern is that the lynx will threaten livelihoods and businesses within the farming industry. Ewes and lambs would be much easier prey than deer because they can’t get away so quickly.” But the conservation charity, the Lynx UK Trust, is pressing ahead with plans to submit an official application to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. The charity hopes that, if successful, the lynx would then be reintroduced into three regions in Aberdeenshire, Cumbria and Suffolk. Could the moors of the South West be next?

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust and policy adviser of the animal welfare charity Care of the Wild, told the Western Morning News earlier this year: “I believe if we brought back the Lynx it would become a natural predator of the deer.” Other wildlife campaigners believe we should take a far more benign attitude to the animal interlopers that are already established.

Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid told the Sunday Times this week: “The ruddy duck saga was a choice between rationality and a pathologically warped notion of wildlife management.” Some will apply the same assessment to bringing back the beaver and the lynx, underlining that when it comes to the species we value and those we don’t, finding common ground is far from straightforward.


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