Farmers fear previously-rejected plans to release lynx into Kielder Forest could be back on the agenda.

The controversial plan has been mooted by the Lynx UK Trust in the past and could be backed by the head of Natural England, who said recently they could study introducing lynx as part of a rewilding project.

The comments, and an article in The Times this month claiming the trust plans to apply to Natural England before Christmas to release six big cats in Northumberland, have farmers concerned.

North Tyne and Redesdale farmers vociferously opposed the plans in 2018, which were later rejected by the Government, but are now fearful of the Lynx Trust’s plans due to their possible Government backing.

The plans would have many negative consequences, farmers say, with many fearing for their livestock and livelihoods.

Dennis Salt, who farms near Otterburn, sent a letter to the new head of Natural England, Tony Juniper, inviting him to visit his farm and learn of the negative impact lynx would have on the area.

“He’s been supportive of the plans without consulting the wider consensus of what’s actually going on,” he said.

And Dennis fears the sheep and cattle on his hill farm would become extremely vulnerable to lynx.

“All the talk will be about a trial reintroduction and if it works well, but what we’ve got to worry about is a full reintroduction," he said.

“If that was allowed it would make hill farms like mine unviable.”

For Malcolm Corbett, of Dykehead Farm near Rochester, he also fears sheep farming may become "unsustainable" if lynx were released into the nearby forest.

“I can’t see what advantages there are to this plan,” he added. “We don’t need lynx to hamper our farming activities in the area.

“These animals are causing a massive problem to the farming communities that have to try and exist alongside them.”

Natural England said it carefully considers the short and long-term impact of any reintroduction proposal on the environment, as well as any socio-economic impacts and the impacts on the animals themselves, before coming to any decision.

The Lynx UK Trust was contacted for comment.

A bid to release six Eurasian lynx into the Kielder Forest was rejected in 2018 – but the Lynx Trust made it clear they remained committed in realising their proposal.

The then Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he had accepted Natural England’s advice not to grant a licence for the scheme.

Mr Gove said the Government remained committed to the reintroduction of once-native species when there are “comprehensive proposals” and clear environmental, social and economic benefits.

But Natural England had expressed concerns about the feasibility of the project, including how it would be funded and a reliance on volunteers, he said.

It was claimed the application did not include an ecological assessment providing assurances the area was suitable for a reintroduction and did not demonstrate sufficient engagement with landowners or local support.

In his letter, Mr Gove said: “Kielder Forest is an area where the Forest Commission has been taking action to manage and restore important habitats and ecosystem functions to enhance biodiversity.”

He said he hoped the trust could support the need to undertake the reintroduction of species in a “considered manner”, which could positively contribute to the natural system of the area and ensure maximum benefits to the local environment and people using it.

Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for the Lynx UK Trust, wrote: “I, and all of the team at the trust, remain as committed and determined as ever to see lynx given a chance to return, and a fair treatment in consideration of the evidenced benefits they will bring.”