An application to carry out a trial reintroduction of six Eurasian lynx in Northumberland’s Kielder Forest has been submitted to Natural England.
The species has been absent from the UK for around 1,300 years, but after consulting with the likes of Scottish Natural Heritage and local residents, the Lynx UK Trust has applied for permission to introduce four female and two male lynx into the forest.
One consequence of the lack of lynx has been over-population of roe deer, but the project is not supported by sheep farmers, who fear for the safety of their flocks.
The National Sheep Association is also critical of how the consultation process was carried out.
Its chief executive, Phil Stocker, said: “Clearly, we are opposed to lynx because of the predatory threat the species poses to sheep, but our argument is far more wide-reaching than that.
“The consultation process adopted by Lynx UK Trust appears flawed and misleading.
“We are led to believe stakeholders have been given less than adequate opportunity to have their say as, in our view the group has made inconsistent and selective efforts to publicise meetings.
“This country is a very different place to what it was 1,300 years ago, and we do not believe we have enough large-scale, suitable habitat to support the minimum population of 250 lynx that is needed for true genetic sustainability.
The project’s chief scientific adviser, Paul O’Donoghue, said the application to Natural England “marks a significant milestone in the history of UK conservation – potentially the first return of an extinct predator, which could prove to be a keystone species for our ecosystem.”
Lynx Trust UK says that no attacks on humans have ever been recorded by a healthy, wild Eurasian lynx and on average less than one sheep in two years has been killed in Europe by a lynx.
Dr Donoghue added: “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.
“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 forward is with an intensively-monitored trial reintroduction of a small number of cats.”
If permission is given, the lynx will be introduced into Kielder Forest for a five-year period, with their movements monitored by satellite collars.