Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss has condemned plans to reintroduce lynx into a Norfolk forest, citing the possible “detrimental impact” on local livestock.
But the South West Norfolk MP spoke out against the plans at a meeting with the National Sheep Association (NSA) at the Elveden Estate this week.
The body, which represents sheep farmers, is publicly opposed to the scheme, which would also see lynx reintroductions in Cumbria and Aberdeenshire, for its possible consequences on the farming industry.
Estates around Thetford, including the Elveden Estate and Euston Estate, have also voiced concerns over the scheme.
Ms Truss said: “The NSA raised with me the detrimental impact that the introduction of lynx into Thetford Forest could have on livestock.
“Not only is there considerable concern about the danger to wildlife and livestock but the unique flora, fauna and biodiversity of the Brecks could be damaged.
“Thetford Forest is a fantastic resource supporting recreation and a thriving timber industry and I do not support the introduction of lynx into this environment.”
Phil Stocker, chief executive of NSA, said: “We were encouraged by what we felt was a clear indication from Mrs Truss that she is opposed to the potential release of lynx into Thetford Forest. We felt she was very taken with our arguments about the damage such a release could have on heathland and grassland in East Anglia, where so much investment into biodiversity has been made in recent years.”
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor to Lynx Trust UK, said there was data demonstrating that one lynx will eat an average of 0.4 sheep per year.
“If you look at the context of six reintroduced lynx in Thetford Forest, that is only 2.4 sheep per year,” he said.
“We believe that the economic benefits of lynx far outweigh any risk to livestock.”
Dr O’Donoghue said the trust plans to fully compensate for any livestock losses and that compensation would be “at least in line with market prices”.
He added that the big cats’ ability to control the forest’s deer population would benefit the environment by encouraging regeneration.
“Lynx are drivers of forest regeneration, and if you look at Thetford Forest it is pretty clear that regeneration has stopped. Lynx have the ability to promote that process,” he said.
Under Lynx UK Trust’s plans, up to six Eurasian lynx would be released on to unfenced land in the Thetford Forest area.
The trust says there would be little risk to livestock and pets because lynx stay away from people and do not hunt in exposed, open areas. It held a consultation on the reintroduction last year. The data is still being collated, but Dr O’Donoghue said the trust was “very pleased” with the results so far. “We want everyone to have a say in this and want to work with as many partners as possible to make it a positive scheme for the UK,” he said.