Lynx could be released into Thetford Forest in a conservation charity’s ambitious plans for ‘rewilding’ the country.
Up to 18 of the predatory cats could to be reintroduced to three privately owned sites, including in Aberdeenshire and Cumbria, after a 1,300 year absence from the UK.
Lynx UK Trust yesterday launched a consultation to gauge public opinion of its controversial plan, which could have further ecological benefits for the chosen sites.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, the trust’s chief scientific advisor, said up to six Eurasian lynx would be reintroduced and monitored as part of a scientific trial.
The cats will be fitted with GPS collars and tracked with ‘state-of-the-art technology’ to assess their impact on the environment.
“Lynx are a natural part of the ecosystem in the UK which has only been removed because we made them extinct - we have a moral obligation to bring them back,” he said.
“They are one of the most beautiful animals you will ever see. They have as much right to be here as any other species.”
Dr O’Donoghue said Thetford Forest was a ‘potentially great habitat’ because of its abundance of deer and relatively low human population.
“It has been highlighted by the Deer Initiative as the best site in the UK,” he said.
“The lynx will both control and change the behaviour of the deer population as they move the animals around. Instead of the deer over-grazing an area, they start to move around which reduces the pressure on the forest and allows it to regenerate.”
The medium-sized cats eat deer, rabbits and hares, but Dr O’Donoghue said they are not considered a threat to people as they tend to stay away from them.
“They are measured predators, but are sometimes called the ‘ghost cat’ because they are incredibly shy and retiring and avoid people at all costs,” he said.
“We strongly suspect that we will release lynx and people will not even know they are there.”
Dr O’Donoghue said the public consultation will be the ‘final piece’ of Lynx UK Trust’s application to be made to Natural England.
He added that the trust have the support of a leading global law firm in their application.
There will be further consultation with the public in Thetford, and discussions are to take place with local landowners, schools and wildlife groups among others.
“We want everyone to be on board and to have a voice,” Dr O’Donoghue added.
The group’s eventual goal is for a ‘self-sustaining’ reintroduction of lynx across the UK.
Find the survey at the Lynx UK Trust website.