Campaigners vow to bring back UK's missing lynx (Image: Chris Godfrey)
The Lynx UK Trust is not giving up its mission to reintroduce the impressive wild felines in the British countryside after Environment Secretary Michael Gove turned down the request for a release licence. Farmers have been fighting a rear-guard action against the plans which could have seen six Eurasian lynx, which are capable of growing up to four-foot long and weigh 65lb, hunting deer and wildlife in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest. Natural England, the Government’s wildlife agency, informed ministers it had concerns about the feasibility of the project, particularly how it would be funded and its reliance on volunteers.
Writing to the Lynx UK Trust, Mr Gove also explained how the planned release site had become a sanctuary for other threatened species.
He said: “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 re-colonisation by a number of bird species as a result of continued efforts, all of which is positive news.”
He went on to say how hoped the trust could support the need to undertake the reintroduction of species in a “considered manner”, which could positively contribute to the natural system of the area and ensure maximum benefits to the local environment and people using it.
Stately but an effective predator. The Eurasian lynx (Image: Chris Godfrey)
But Dr Paul O'Donoghue, chief Scientist for Lynx UK Trust, says the arrival of the iconic species has only been delayed by the Government’s rejections.
He told supporters: “Our plans are pioneering and would mean an apex predator back in the UK for the first time in 1,300 years.
"No one has ever tried this before. Rest assured though that this is only a delay to our plans and the whole team are as committed as ever to bringing lynx back to the UK where they rightfully belong.”
The Lynx UK Trust says it is confident it can satisfy Mr Gove’s reservations and will be going through the points made prior to resubmitting a second draft application next year.
Dr O'Donoghue added: “To put all this in context, there were several failed license applications for beavers before they were eventually reintroduced, so this is only the beginning of our journey.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove rejects lynx release plan (Image: GETTY)
" We submitted the first application in history and have moved the agenda to return lynx forward immeasurably and will continue to do so. Your support is always hugely appreciated, so keep up the good work and we will update you all very shortly. Keep smiling, lynx will be back before we know it.”
Opponents, such as the National Sheep Association (NSA), have raised concerns about the potential impacts, including losses of livestock and the welfare of the wild animals released into the "busy, industrial forest”.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We strongly believe this is the right decision on ecological, social and agricultural grounds. This victory is not just for farmers but for the ecology of the area, the rural community and the farming economy.
"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.”