The project to reintroduce lynx to Thetford Forest has been thrown into doubt by a strongly worded statement from Natural England.
While the Lynx UK Trust said a survey showed support from 91 per cent of the public, Natural England, the body that would have to licence the release, was not so confident.
It said yesterday: “Any application to introduce lynx into England would need very serious consideration in terms of its impact right across the UK.
“If such an application were made, Natural England would consider it in line with prevailing legislation; international guidelines; following proper public consultation and evidence gathering.”
It said it had had only ‘a single preliminary meeting’ with the trust’s legal advisers to describe the long process that would be needed before a licence submission could be considered.”
Natural England’s statement comes after the Lynx UK Trust launched a survey on reintroducing up to 18 Eurasian lynx into three locations around the UK.
It says the results show a vast number of people in favour of bringing back the once-native cats - with 91 per cent saying they would welcome the reintroduction and 84 per cent saying they would be happy for it to happen in the next year.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor to Lynx UK Trust, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the results. The public clearly want this to happen an we are confident we can deliver it.
“The survey results are better than we expected. Also, more than half the people who filled it in were from rural areas, so it shows the project is supported by members of the rural community.
“This is not just a townie idea, it is back by the people in the countryside who would be most closely involved.”
Under the plans, four to six lynx would be reintroduced in Thetford Forest and electronically monitored.
“Some members of the farming community seem to be cautious but we are sure when we explain to them the facts and figures they will be reassured.”
Dr O’Donoghue said the big cats, typically ‘smaller than a labrador’, presented no threat to livestock for ‘the vast majority of the time’.
“Because lynx eat deer, which feed on crops, arable farmers could all get a great deal from them. Thetford forest farmers are primarily arable farmers, so they should be the most pleased with the news.”
Of 9,598 responses, 91.1 per cent were in favour of lynx reintroduction as part of a ‘monitored scientific trial’, and 84.2 per cent of 9,530 responses were in favour of this happening in the next 12 months.
Out of 8,140 reponses a total of 89 per cent of urban respondents, compared to 83 per cent of rural respondents, were in favour of monitored reintroduction.
Dr O’Donoghue said in light of the survey’s response, the trust is considering expanding the trail to other locations including Kielder Forest in Northumberland and more sites in Scotland.
“We are working as quickly as we can to complete our proposal for Natural England and want to get the lynx back where they belong by the end of the year,” he said.
“They have been waiting 1,300 years, which is long enough.”