There’s what seems to me something of a madness gripping parts of our conservation movement – its to do with the re-introduction of extinct species.
We’ve had proposals to introduce Bears and Wolves – partly in some romanticised vision of returning parts of the wild mammal population of the UK to a kind of post Ice-Age Eutopia and partly in an effort to reduce populations of some of our imported deer.
We’ve already had Beaver re-introduced on the River Otter where the arguments in favour of the project range from improvements to flood management and water quality to the Beaver becoming a tourist attraction. The most recent move is to reintroduce the Lynx to parts of northern England – an idea most likely reignited by the publicity surrounding escape of one of these creatures from a Dartmoor Zoo.
The plan is for up to 10 of the animals would be released into the English-Scottish borders under proposals sets out by the Lynx UK Trust. It would be the first time wild lynx have been at large in Britain for 1,300 years. Arguments in favour of releasing Lynx are that they could become a tourist attraction and would help control populations of Muntjac deer – another introduced species.
Of course, releasing pretty furry animals with engaging habits such as felling trees with their big white teeth or managing deer with equally big – and sharp – white teeth, could well gain popular public support – but its not all about cuddly animals and wildlife spotting.
The Beaver project on the River Otter is a five-year feasibility study – but the wildlife group managing the project quickly became concerned about inbreeding so a few additional Beaver chums had to be introduced to ensure a sufficiently deep gene pool to ensure a successful breeding programme.
Presumably the Lynx would require an equally diverse – but perhaps not so deep - gene pool and, therefore where do we draw the line?
Quite often there is a good reason why once native species have become extinct – bears and timber wolves don’t make easy bedfellows for us on a heavy populated island, we are told that the Lynx mainly eats deer but perhaps because there aren’t quite so many lambs in the areas it currently populates as there are in Northern England.
This isn’t Eastern Europe with hundreds of thousands of square acres of uninhabited countryside, this is England - populated, visited, farmed and managed England with its Countryside and Rights of Way act offering access over mountain, moor, heath, down and common land and its Marine and Coastal Access Act offering access over yet more land.
There are a number of boxes which have to be ticked before this sort of project can go ahead and it may well fail on some or several of those, but the critically important question if this project goes ahead is where are the safety nets for the future? To date the process of gathering independent evidence and consulting with landowners has not been convincing.
We (CLA) are not against the principle of reintroducing the Lynx to the UK, but previous consultations carried out by the Lynx Trust have not been sufficiently objective and the information provided by the organisation has not always been entirely accurate.
So any attempt to re-introduce extinct species needs to be considered very carefully, and if this does get the green light, there have to be safeguards put in place.
Safeguards which will enable those landowners who do not want Beavers or Lynx or Bears or Woolly Mammoth on their land or in their rivers to remove them – not just during the years of any trial, there need to be measures put in place which will hold good in ten, fifteen or twenty years time and which are straightforward, easily achieved and which carry no burden of cost for the landowner.