Lynx could be reintroduced at Kielder. Photo: Erwin van Maanen.
A HIGHLY-CHARGED meeting designed to canvas Kielder residents about the possible reintroduction of lynx into the forest surrounding them descended into chaos on Thursday night.
The hosts, Lynx UK Trust, accused the National Sheep Association of scuppering what was meant to be the start of their local consultations by bringing in farmers from outside the area to shout the speakers down.
At stake is a five-year pilot project in which five pairs of lynx would be imported from Romania and released into the wild, complete with GPS collars to track their every move.
The statutory conditions attached to the trust’s licence would dictate the management of the project.
But the trust’s chief scientific adviser Dr Paul O’Donoghue said: “This is meant to be a local consultation and there’s a lot of people in this room who aren’t local.”
He added that NSA chairman Phil Stocker, who had travelled up from Gloucestershire for the meeting, “has decided to come here to create a fuss”.
Much of the meeting was taken up with quibbling over who had said or supported what during Lynx UK’s recent survey, which had drawn 9,500 responses nationwide, and whether Kielder and the countryside was, in Dr O’Donoghue’s words, “dying on its feet”.
The trust’s claims that lynx would both enrich the biodiversity of Kielder Forest and prove a positive attraction for tourists were hotly contested by the farmers present.
One man said: “This is a stupid idea – walkers and tourists will stay away from the area, worried. And we’re worried about our sheep being worried!”
The saga of the lynx that had to be hunted down after escaping from Dartmoor Zoo in June was referred to, along with anecdotal evidence from farmers in Germany and Norway who had lost many sheep to lynx there.
“They have been badly hit,” said one farmer.
However, Dr O’Donoghue said lynx bred in captivity behaved in an entirely different manner to wild lynx, who stayed within the forest line and hunted roe deer – they did not go out on to the moors.
“So everything out on the moors can be shot?” shouted one man.
“Some of the heather is higher than small trees out there.”
Lynx UK had looked at research across Europe that showed 0.4 sheep a year were killed on average by each lynx. The trust acknowledged that if the pilot project was successful and lynx did become permanently established in Britain, a population of around 400 would be needed to ensure the wildcats’ sustainability.
“On those sorts of figures, around 800 sheep a year would be lost,” said Dr O’Donoghue.
The fear among farmers is that they won’t be able to prove it was a lynx that took their stock and therefore make it difficult to claim the compensation promised.
Several Kielder residents said after the meeting they didn’t recognise many or any of the farmers present.
Terry Gregg, owner of Kielder’s Twenty Seven Bed & Breakfast, said: “Local people didn’t see any point in talking, because everybody was shouting and nobody was listening. Others I’ve spoken to say if there had been a more open forum they would have spoken up, but it felt like there was a level of intimidation present.”
Adders and dogs caused more problems in the countryside than lynx would, he felt.
Kielder resident Andy Hall said local people – those who weren’t related to farmers – were generally quite open to the idea of the lynx.
“I have a couple of concerns, but I’m more for it than against it,” he said.
“I said to the guy next to me, who disagreed visitors would come even though they were unlikely to see the lynx, ‘have you heard of the Loch Ness monster?’
“But you couldn’t say anything at the meeting. You would have just been booed out of the room.”