Plans to reintroduce lynx to Northumberland and the Scottish Borders have been shelved in a massive win for the industry, but farm chiefs have warned the fight against rewilding is far from over.
In a letter of rejection to the Lynx UK Trust this week, Defra Secretary Michael Gove said the proposal to release six Eurasian lynx into Kielder Forest ‘lacked the necessary depth and rigour to provide confidence it would succeed’ and cited a lack of assurance that the area had been ‘properly assessed as suitable for the animals’.
Mr Gove said he was following Natural England’s advice that the application did not meet the necessary International Union for Conservation of Nature guidelines.
He said: “The proposal did not demonstrate sufficient local support for the project and the socio-economic benefits of the trial were unclear.”
Dennis Salt, whose land in Otterburn, Northumberland, borders the forest, said he was ‘absolutely ecstatic’ about the decision.
He said: “It has not just been farmers, there has been a tremendous amount of support from local people who thought it was simply the wrong decision for the area.
“Mr Gove and Natural England’s response was spot on and they have definitely taken note of what local people have said.”
National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker, who has been fighting the proposals since 2015 when the release was first mooted, added: “The threat of lynx against sheep was very real and we could not be happier that this is not a risk our members will have to face.”
NFU Scotland environment and land use policy manager Andrew Midgley said Mr Gove’s letter made it clear there was insufficient engagement with farmers, landowners and the wider community and that the project was ‘therefore flawed from the beginning’.
NFU uplands chairman Thomas Binns said while it was welcome news, the industry must guard against future rewilding initiatives.
The illegally reintroduced beaver population in Tayside has tripled in recent years and conservationists are now in talks to return sea eagles to the Isle of Wight following their controversial reintroduction in Scotland.
Mr Binns said: “We have to be aware that people will not give up, but farmers have to plan for how they try and push their agenda.”