Plans to reintroduce lynx to Northumberland rejected

A Eurasian lynx. Picture by Erwin van Maanen
A Eurasian lynx. Picture by Erwin van Maanen

A bid to reintroduce lynx to Kielder Forest has been rejected.

The Lynx UK Trust wanted permission for a trial reintroduction of six Eurasian lynx into the area.

But Environment Secretary Michael Gove has refused its application for a licence, after advice from Natural England.

In a letter to Dr Paul O'Donoghue from the Trust, he said: 'Following a thorough assessment, Natural England concluded that the application does not meet the necessary standards set out in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) guidelines and fails to give confidence that the project could be completed in practical terms or that the outputs would meet the stated aims. As a result Natural England found that the proposal lacked the necessary depth and rigour to provide confidence it would succeed.'

Mr Gove said Natural England had concerns in a number of areas of the proposal, including how it would be funded and a reliance on volunteers.

In the letter, he said the proposal 'did not include an ecological impact assessment and therefore the application lacked the assurances that impacts had been considered or that the area had been properly assessed as suitable for the lynx at the current time.'

He said the plan did not demonstrate sufficient local support for the project and the socio-economic benefits of the trial were unclear.

He added: 'I understand that this news will be disappointing to you, and I would like to assure you that the government remains committed to providing opportunities for the reintroduction of formerly native species, as outlined in the 25 Year Environment Plan, where proposals are comprehensive and there are clear environmental and socioeconomic benefits.

'Kielder Forest is an area where the Forest Commission has been taking action to manage and restore important habitats and ecosystem functions to enhance biodiversity. This has included the release of hundreds of water vole and the removal of mink from the Tyne and monitoring the return and spread of pine martens to understand options for their recovery.

'The area has also seen significant recolonisation by a number of bird species as a result of continued efforts, all of which is positive news. I hope that you can support the need to undertake species reintroductions in a considered manner that can positively contribute to the ecosystem dynamics of the area and ensure that the maximum benefits are gained for both the local environment and those who use and enjoy it.'

The decision was welcomed by the National Sheep Association (NSA) and the CLA.

Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA is delighted to hear the application has been rejected and that Mr Gove and his colleagues within Defra and Natural England have taken our comments on board. We strongly believe this is the right decision, on ecological, social and agricultural grounds. Today’s victory is not just for farmers, but for the ecology of the area, the rural community and the farming economy.

“NSA first raised its concerns with Natural England in March 2015, so nearly four years ago when the release was first suggested and has been leading the charge ever since. Today’s announcement shows the effectiveness of our working with local farmers and community groups that share our concerns.

"The community in Kielder has really come together and with the support of NSA has hosted meetings and discussions to raise their concerns. The threat of the lynx against sheep was very real and we could not be happier that this isn’t a risk our members will have to face.”

CLA Director North Dorothy Fairburn, said: “We welcome the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove’s decision, following advice from Natural England, not to grant a licence for the reintroduction of Lynx in Kielder Forest.”

“CLA and other farming organisations will welcome this decision and the basis on which it was made, and crucially, that any such reintroduction would not have the support of landowners, farmers and the Forestry Commission in the area.”