WITH word on the grapevine that Michael Gove might announce in January whether six wild lynx can be released into Kielder Forest, farmers are maintaining the pressure of their opposition.

It is not just sheep that will be at risk if the five year trial envisaged by Lynx UK Trust, to test the reintroduction of the apex predator, goes ahead, says Otterburn farmer Dennis Salt.

“The lynx release would devastate hill farms like mine. Everyone knows sheep are on the menu, but I would like to draw attention to the fact many farmers in North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, with land in the Kielder Forest area, raise native breed cattle.

“My Highland cattle live on the fells year-round and their calves, when born, are about the same size and colour of roe deer (typical lynx fare).”

The Highlands hide their calves in rushes and hollows for safety, but in fact, out on the fells, they were very vulnerable.

He said: “As mothers, they are very protective. I have one now that is nasty – you definitely wouldn’t go near her calf – but she wanders away for up to a couple of hours at a time to graze.”

There had been no mention of compensation in relation to any animals other than sheep, but it wasn’t compensation he wanted. “I just don’t want our animals to be attacked in the first place.”

But if a lynx did pick off a calf, its value would be so much higher than that of a sheep. While a good breeding ewe could be worth between £80 and £100, a good yearling calf could fetch upwards of £650 at mart.

Dennis had bought the first of his 37 Highland cattle three years ago, in the spirit of the stewardship agreement he has on 350 of his 520 acres at Rattenraw Farm.

They are prized for their conservation-friendly grazing habits. He said: “Introducing native breed cattle is part of the scheme agreement to provide mixed grazing, to help create more habitat for ground nesting birds and to encourage wildlife in general.”

But the farm, which also has 600 Swaledale and Texel-cross sheep, would be too close for comfort to the proposed lynx release location, within a stone’s throw of Rochester.

“On a map, it looks to be quite a way from us, but I can walk the distance in an hour,” he said. “And Lynx can travel at least 15km a day quite easily.

“At the start of all this, the worry was about sheep and lambs, but the real worry for me now is the calves.”

He had suggested at meetings that if the trial did go ahead, the lynx could be released on a large country estate that was fenced off, but had been told ‘that wouldn’t be a trial’.