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Rewilding in the UK: A Case Study of the Lynx

Emily is a conservation and sustainability journalist. She feels passionately about endangered species. You can see her latest work on her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter.

As human populations have progressed, industrialised and grown, they have trodden upon areas of the planet once reserved solely for wildlife and the natural ecosystems in which they had peacefully lived. This has lead to local and global extinctions and overall declines in biodiversity.

Some may consider humankind’s effects on nature as an inevitable and irreversible side effect of population growth. However, in the United Kingdom, conservationists hope to flip that assumption on its head and reintroduce a species that was eradicated from the country nearly 1,300 years ago: the lynx.

Who Is Responsible?

Specific wildlife charities and organisations are throwing their support behind rewilding the lynx, as well as other species that have been hunted or otherwise pushed out of their natural place in Britain’s ecosystems.

Rewilding Britain is one such organisation, which hopes to work with local communities, business owners, property owners and government officials to find ways for people and nature to live symbiotically in a way they haven’t before. The Lynx Trust has taken its support one step further, actually applying for permission to reintroduce the species in Northumberland in July 2017.

The lynx

A hot topic in the conservation world: the lynx. The lynx has not been present in the UK for nearly 1,300 years but local rewilding organisations are campaigning to bring these big cats back to the British Isles.

Why Are They Rewilding?

There are many reasons why traditional conservation methods – largely focused on creating nature refuges and protected areas - have failed to promote long-term species reintegration. While these cordoned off areas can benefit particular species, they often boast relatively low overall biodiversity and are typically reliant on management by humans.

Rewilding can create ecosystems with increased resilience that are less reliant on human intervention. Re-introducing plants and animals known as keystone species – species like the lynx that have a large effect on a number of species relationships in an ecosystem - can reestablish ecological niches and processes that are fundamental to the ecosystem’s integrity. Experts believe a successful reintroduction of the lynx would cause a chain reaction, with more animals returning to their native lands on the British Isles. Rewilding advocates say the lynx is an excellent candidate for rewilding because it hunts deer, which overpopulate much of the English countryside, and are not known to attack humans. Lucky us.

Is Anyone Opposed to the Rewilding?

While many conservationists are championing the idea of rewilding the lynx and other once-populous species, some oppose their reintroduction. There is fear among farmers that the lynx will kill their sheep, and others worry that because habitats have been so drastically altered since they inhabited the country we cannot predict how these animals will behave in these new landscapes.

Rewilding advocates believe the lynx won’t have a large impact on farmers because they are typically hesitant to emerge from the safety of their woodland habitat and are therefore unlikely to leave tree cover to hunt and eat sheep in wide open fields. Despite this, farming communities are still understandably worried about the unknown impact of these apex predators.

When Will We Know the Effects?

The Lynx Trust has applied for a licence allowing it to import six lynx back into the UK. The initial population would consist of four females and two males, whose locations would be tracked by GPS collars. If the application is successful, this could happen before the end of 2017.

The Trust says it has a moral obligation to reintroduce a species that was once native to the country. For added incentive, it promises increases in tourism revenue as people travel to catch a glimpse of these beautiful wildcats in the countryside.

If their attempt is successful, the lynx will join a growing list of rewilding success stories, which include the reintroduction of beavers to Scotland and white storks to areas throughout the nation.

Hopefully this is just the beginning of a wilder UK!

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