Sheep farmers are trying to block plans to release six Eurasian lynx into Kielder Forest. Photo: cgwp.co.uk (Chris Godfrey Wildlife Photography)
THE organisation wanting to release six Eurasian lynx in Kielder Forest is hoping to placate sheep farmers – worried about stock being attacked by the wild cats – by using llamas as protection.
The Lynx UK Trust said bringing llamas to Kielder could tackle concerns in sheep farming over predation, maiming and stressing of sheep by any species, not just lynx.
The trial could test the use of llamas as “guardian” animals, known to see off predators such as foxes and coyotes and the trust says the scheme could also generate millions in tourist spend that would in turn be channelled to local farmers.
As it waits to hear whether Natural England will grant permission for a five-year trial designed to reintroduce the big cat to Britain after a 1,300-year absence, the charity has announced details of a sheep welfare programme which would tackle what it said were some of the real problems in the farming industry.
If it gets the green light, Lynx UK said it will build a new tourism hub in Kielder that will collect money from visitors to help fund the trial and provide benefits to the local community.
The trust’s chief communications adviser Steve Piper said the success of a similar project in the Harz mountains of Germany had showed the way.
“Lynx are difficult animals to see but that’s part of the charisma that draws people to try,” he said.
“The eco-tourism potential in Kielder is certainly worth millions of pounds over a five-year trial.”
Mr Piper added: “We’ve had two years of the National Sheep Association’s reality-defying claims that six lynx will threaten the UK’s sheep industry and food security but they’ve had almost nothing to say on the millions of lambs lost to welfare basics whilst they were busy doing that.”
He said grants funded by lynx eco-tourism could help local farmers with things such as building lambing shelters, maintaining fencing to reduce road kills and effectively delivering vaccinations and other critical early-life care.
“Even a fractional improvement would mean a lot more healthy sheep and a huge reduction in financial losses,” he said.
He also addressed one of the farmers’ greatest concerns about the trial – the difficulty they would have in proving a lynx had killed their sheep.
“We’re confident it can be done; satellite tracking of the lynx will certainly prove any kills, though they tend to leave carcasses very close to kill sites anyway. If the lynx do kill any sheep then compensation must be paid, no question.”
That money too would be drawn from the income generated by the new tourism hub.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, took issue with the picture Mr Piper painted of the farming industry.
“The UK is recognised as having a very efficient farming industry that is constantly striving to improve that efficiency and productivity,” said Mr Stocker.
“The fact is the NSA and other farming organisations are already working with farmers to reduce the losses - it’s not a new thing at all.
“So it’s disingenuous to suggest the industry is being complacent and that Lynx UK is going to come riding over the hill to solve this problem.”
l The National Sheep Association is holding a public meeting in Elsdon next week to look at means of derailing Lynx UK’s plans.
The lynx charity has just announced it is looking at releasing the big cat in a second area – in Argyll and Inverness-shire in the Scottish West Highlands.
Mr Stocker said: “We are keen to draw the sheep farming and local communities together to update them on what we and others are doing to prevent this release taking place and to gather further ideas and areas of activity.”
The meeting will take place in Elsdon Village Hall on Wednesday, August 16 at 7.30pm. Attendance should be confirmed by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or ringing (01684) 892661.