By Adam Vaughan
European Lynx in Bardu, Norway
Conservationists are taking the first step towards a potential reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) to Scotland, with the launch of a year-long study into public attitudes.
Believed to have been wiped out in Scotland between 500 and 1000 years ago, the carnivore has already been returned to several European countries since the 1970s, including France, Germany and Switzerland.
However, previous efforts to reintroduce the species to the UK have failed, with the UK government rejecting a 2018 bid to release six in Northumberland. Now three charities are embarking on research to better understand Scottish public attitudes to the lynx.
This project is not a reintroduction project, its a social feasibility project. This is the first step in what could be a very long journey, says Peter Cairns at Scotland: The Big Picture, one of the three groups conducting the research, along with Trees for Life and the Vincent Wildlife Trust.
The study will use face-to-face interviews, initially held via video calls due to the pandemic, to find out if people even know what lynx are, and whether a lack of knowledge is an obstacle or a benefit to their return. Theres a tendency to tribalise these things: farmers against, bunny huggers for it. In reality thats not true, theres a massive spectrum of perspectives even under those tribal umbrellas, says Cairns.
Bringing the species back to Scotland would be one piece in a wider jigsaw of efforts to rewild landscapes. The predator could help bring deer numbers in Scotland under control, and boost tree-planting efforts that are hampered by deer damage to saplings. The return of the lynx could also serve as a precursor to hopes to return wolves to Scotland.
Past research has found broadly strong public support for a reintroduction of lynx either to the Scottish Highlands or the Forest of Dean in England, with a 2014 paper finding 65 per cent in favour.
With environment policy a devolved matter in the UK, any future application for a lynx reintroduction in Scotland would be decided by the Scottish government rather than the government of the UK. But Cairns says evidence is first needed on what people think, and no return could happen in the next three to four years. If people favour the reintroduction, he says lynx could be back within five to 10 years.
More on these topics:
By Adam Vaughan