The Lynx UK Trust has submitted an application to carry out a trial re-introduction of six Eurasian lynx to Kielder Forest in Northumberland.
If permission is given, the four females and two males would be intently studied over a five-year period – amassing information that could indicate whether a full re-introduction can be carried out with more individuals across a wider area.
The bid has been made to Natural England, which is the statutory body that will decide on the application.
In April 2015, the trust, a team of international wildlife and conservation experts, asked the general public for their opinion on bringing back the deer-hunting lynx after a 1,300-year absence to help balance out deer overpopulation and its damaging effects on forestry and agricultural crops.
Later that year, a national stakeholder consultation was launched on the possible re-introduction, with Northumberland listed as one of five trial re-introduction sites.
Once decimated across the continent to just 700 individuals, there are now more than 10,000 of the Eurasian lynx and successful re-introductions have been staged in countries including Germany, France and Switzerland.
Whilst any releases would take place in England, the lynx may cross the border into Scotland and, as such, Scottish Natural Heritage is also remaining fully informed of all details of the application.
The chief scientific advisor on the project, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, said: “It’s incredibly exciting to see it all come together after an intense couple of years.
“Tens of thousands of man hours of work by a huge team of people have gone into consultations to shape this final application, which marks a significant milestone in the history of UK conservation – potentially the first return of an extinct predator, which could prove to be a really keystone species for our ecosystem.
“And the Lynx can bring huge benefits to the Kielder region. We could see a wave of economic regeneration as it becomes known as the kingdom of the lynx; a unique eco-tourism destination right in the middle of Britain.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from local businesses and it would be amazing to work with them developing that, from The Anglers Arms pub in Kielder Village already sporting a life-size replica lynx above the bar to all kinds of new guest houses, guided walks and wildlife watching activities creating new jobs in the area.
“We’ve now reached a point where we feel every piece of research has been done, every concern that can be raised has been raised, and the only way to move truly forward is with an intensively monitored trial re-introduction of a small number of cats.
“This can tell us exactly how suitable the lynx would be for a larger re-introduction. We very much hope the lynx has the opportunity to prove it can bring so much to the local community and the UK as a whole.”
The lynx that would be chosen for the trial would come from healthy wild populations in Europe and be subject to full veterinary screening.
Some are enthusiastic about the proposed re-introduction but others, including many in the farming community, are not with the NFU branding the idea ‘expensive with a high risk of failure’.
When the plans were first announced, NFU countryside adviser Claire Robinson said: “Any species introduction, particularly if it has not been in this country for hundreds of years, can have a massive impact on the many benefits that the countryside delivers.
“The environment has changed drastically and we do not know how lynx would behave in the current environment.
“But the biggest concern we have would be the impact on farm animals, with lynx preying on lambs, poultry and outdoor piglets – those animals are farmers’ livelihoods.
“In our view, any re-introduction of lynx would be expensive with a high risk of failure – we believe efforts, and finances, would be better focused on retaining current biodiversity.
“The NFU will respond in full to any official consultation from Natural England. We will continue to raise these very serious concerns with Natural England as the licensing body.”
In relation to their behaviour, a Lynx UK Trust spokesman said: “Lynx have a shy and secretive nature that makes them a perfect re-introduction candidate – no attacks on humans have ever been recorded by a healthy, wild Eurasian lynx anywhere in the world.
“They have a very low impact on livestock, with lynx in Europe killing, on average, less than one sheep every two years.”