THE NEXT meeting in the round of consultations taking place over the potential release of wild lynx into Kielder forest will take place at Tarset Village Hall on February 1.
Representatives of Lynx UK, the trust driving the project, will be there from 7pm onwards to talk and canvas local opinion.
Its chief scientific adviser, Dr Paul O’Donoghue, is pleased with the results so far.
“We have knocked on the majority of residents’ doors in the Kielder and Falstone area and engaged with the vast majority of businesses there, too,” he said. “And I would say well over 90 per cent of them are in favour of the plan.
“We are visiting individual farms to hand out more information as well.”
Following the heated meeting that took place in Kielder last autumn, during which he accused the National Sheep Association of bringing in farmers from outside the region to shout down the speakers, another meeting designed for local people had taken place in Newcastleton.
“There was none of that transporting people in from London and the Outer Hebrides,” he said.
“We got a lot of local farmers at that meeting and there was none of that playing to the crowd that happened at Kielder.
“Instead, it was very calm and some good questions asked, and a good discussion got going as a result.
“We even got people volunteering to hold coffee mornings to begin fund-raising for us.”
The Channel 4 television crew making a documentary about the proposed lynx release – if it goes ahead, the five-year trial will be the first time the beast will have roamed our lands in 1,300 years – returned to Kielder for more footage.
This time round they filmed Kielder First School pupils learning all about how the lynx would be tracked via GPS-enabled collars.
Headteacher Fay Hartland said Lynx UK had given what she described as a balanced presentation to pupils beforehand.
“I felt they certainly weren’t giving it a hard sell,” she said. “They were purely giving the facts; answering questions and using data drawn from research in Europe.
“I personally don’t feel there is any safety issue. Lynx are quite small animals – smaller than most people’s dogs – living in the middle of forests.
“Kielder Forest is a big place and they are going to be quite shy animals. But I think they might be quite good for tourism if people think there’s the slightest chance they might spot them.”
The original five pairs proposed has been pared down to six lynx – four females and two males – as Lynx UK’s research has progressed.
And if the trial does go ahead, they will be imported from Sweden, and not Romania as originally suggested.
Sweden does not have rabies, so the period of quarantine required on importing them would be minimised, said the trust’s regional representative, Deborah Brady.
“There’s also the fact Sweden has hunting quotas, so we’d be taking animals that would otherwise be killed and that’s quite a nice thought,” she said.
The viewpoints extrapolated to date from the questionnaires given out during the consultation reveal a divide between residents, businesses and farmers.
Ms Brady said: “There is a spectrum of opinion. Businesses are overwhelmingly supportive that the lynx will be a very positive move.
“Among residents, there’s a range of feelings, but it’s definitely not overwhelming opposition – there’s a balance of either ‘neutral’ or ‘in favour’.
“Farmers still have strong concerns, but we are gradually addressing that.”
Besides the extensive amount of door to door work Lynx UK has done in recent months, speaking to the vast majority of residents, businesses and farmers in person, often for an hour to an hour-and-a-half at a time, the trust is also in the throes of setting up two forums.
One will be specifically for farmers, dedicated to thrashing out their concerns. Chief among them is the fear the lynx would leave the forest to take sheep if they couldn’t find enough deer to sustain them.
Farmers say proving lynx were to blame would be nigh on impossible – particularly if the sheep carcasses were nowhere to be found – making the compensation scheme promised a hollow offer.
The other forum will be for stakeholders in general, from individual residents to representatives of organisations such as the Forestry Commission and the National Trust.
Rob Hersey is proprietor, with his wife Vicky, of the Wild Northumbrian glamping and outdoors business based in Tarset. He said he had no doubt whatsoever that the lynx would be good not only for business, but more importantly for the environment at large.
“Northumberland has been ravaged over past times,” he said. “We are planning a new woodland on our site and encourage people, where we can, to think about rewilding themselves – to help improve the landscape and the wildlife mix.
“So the idea of bringing back lynx is absolutely natural to us. We feel it would be beneficial in lots of ways.
“They would stabilise the local ecosystem, while attracting lots of tourists to the area, which would be good for us and many other businesses up here.
“We already have the dark skies status, which is wonderful, but now we really should be looking at the landscape and wildlife. We have the resources here that would be emphasised by something as dramatic as the reintroduction of lynx and if it does go ahead, I think it would be very, very good for the whole area.”