COUNCILLORS in Northumberland have spoken of their opposition to the potential reintroduction of lynx to the county.

It comes after the launch of the Missing Lynx Project – a new partnership between Northumberland Wildlife Trust (NWT), The Lifescape Project and the Wildlife Trusts exploring the possibility of reintroducing the predator to Northumberland as well as parts of Cumbria and southern Scotland.

Lynx, medium-sized cats about the size of a Labrador, were historically native to Britain.

However, they died out in medieval times due to the loss of woodland habitats. NWT say lynx are found “all over mainland Europe” but are “seldom seen and live alone”.

READ MORE: New exhibition on Britain's missing lynx to tour Northumberland

It believes that replacing missing species such as lynx could help to rebuild a healthy natural world, with one in six species at risk of extinction in the UK.  They argue the cats could be brought back, but only if the conditions are right.

A statement said that there “needs to be an area in Britain where lynx have the right natural habitat to survive and somewhere that local people are accepting of the animal back in the landscape”.

The habitat patch where lynx would be predicted to successfully live covers north-west Northumberland, the edge of Cumbria and into the bordering areas of southern Scotland as the woodland habitat here has recovered.

The partnership says it would support a reintroduction – but only if certain conditions, including support from locals, were met.

The Missing Lynx Project is hosting a touring exhibition in Northumberland as well as parts of Cumbria and southern Scotland where people will be able to give their opinion. The exhibition will begin in Kielder on April 11 and run at different local venues throughout the spring and summer.

However, the proposals have already been met with stiff resistance in Northumberland. Councillor Mark Mather, who represents the Wooler ward, is a farmer by trade.

He feared the impact reintroducing lynx would have on livestock and farming communities.
Coun Mather said: “I will be 100 per cent against it. They don’t understand the impact on communities, businesses and livelihoods.

“It is extremely dangerous for the farming sector and the wider community. Are lynx going to chase a deer for miles, or an easy, fluffy sheep that can’t get out because it’s fenced in?

“A ewe at the moment is worth £190, if you lost a calf that would be at least £1,200. We’re talking big numbers.”

It is not the first time such proposals have been brought forward. In 2018, a proposal by charity the Lynx Trust UK to release six animals into Kielder Forest was turned down by then-Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Cllr John Riddle represents the Kielder area as part of the Bellingham ward on the county council. Cllr Riddle, a fourth-generation farmer from the Bellingham area, expressed his inability to support the plans and raised concerns about the timing of the consultation.

He said: “My opinion at the moment is that nothing has changed since last time. It was looked at before by the National Park and they decided they didn’t support it, and the secretary of state didn’t support it.

“The consultation is being held at a time when farmers are extremely busy doing all they can to save lambs and livelihoods, and they will be less likely to take part in any meetings. I don’t think it’s a good time to do it.

“I need to be convinced a lot. I’m intending to send my own survey out with Hexham MP Guy Opperman for all the farmers in the area.”

The Lynx UK Trust has consistently maintained that lynx are not a threat to livestock, saying evidence from mainland Europe suggests a single animal takes, on average, 0.4 sheep a year. In 2017, the Guardian reported that the trust argued that lynxes showed “virtually no interest in killing sheep” and that their appetite for foxes would reduce fox-on-sheep predation.

However, according to the BBC, a study in Norway found that “sheep represented 64 per cent of ungulates killed by 24 lynx monitored over a five-year period”. Ungulates, such as sheep, deer and goats, represented 80 per cent of kills, while smaller animals such as beavers, hares and foxes made up the other 20 per cent. The same study found one individual lynx was responsible for 54 kills in a 100-day period.

Cllr Steven Bridgett, who represents the Rothbury ward, said he could not support the plans.
Cllr Bridgett said: “Should reintroduction be considered for any of the areas I represent, I would have to oppose it. There is limited information being provided with regard to the proposal.

“This is yet again another pressure being put on our farming communities that they can ill-afford with all the other pressures being placed on them, when all they are trying to do is put food on our tables.”

The Missing Lynx Exhibition will visit Kielder, Tarset and Wark as well as the Sill near Haltwhistle, Hexham Abbey and the Hancock Museum in Newcastle. Tickets can be booked via their website.

The partnership says the exhibition will provide opportunities for people to voice their opinions through questionnaires, interviews, and discussion groups. Visitors will also learn about changes in our landscape over the years, the loss of nature, and prospects for its improvement in the future.

The Missing Lynx exhibition will also chart the lynx’s comeback across Europe. Mike Pratt, chief executive officer at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said he hoped people would find the exhibition awe-inspiring and that the charity was looking forward to speaking to local communities about lynx.