Lynx UK Trust has revealed Kielder and Borders as its preferred area for a trial reintroduction of wild cats.
After months of consultations with national stakeholders, Lynx UK Trust has announced Kielder Forest as the preferred site for a trial reintroduction of Lynx.
The proposals have caused an uproar in the farming community over the last year, with National Sheep Association (NSA) president Phil Stocker previously saying the reintroduction of lynx could be the final straw for the ’fragile sheep industry.
Kilder Forest, spanning Northumberland and the Scottish Borders was identified as the preferred site after several months of consulatation.
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor for the trust said the team always suspected Kielder ’had the right mixture’.
"It was important to really investigate what each site offered and to pay real attention to what stakeholders were telling us," said Dr O’Donoghue.
"Balancing up the many factors Kielder has continually stood out as a place where the lynx can flourish and bring huge benefits to the local community.”
However, NFU Scotland (NFUS) is confident any application by the Lynx UK Trust will receive ’robust scrutiny’ and that members should be confident that NFUS will take all the necessary steps to stop lynx being reintroduced.
But while Lynx UK has said the Eurasian lynx are a ’rare modern wildlife success story’, the NFU has said it is ’against species reintroductions’.
A spokesman from the NFU said: "The NFU is against species reintroductions.
"They are highly costly and carry with them a high risk of failure. They can have a massive impact on the many benefits that the countryside delivers.
"We believe efforts, and finances, would be better focused on retaining current biodiversity.
"Lynx have not been in England for many hundreds of years. In that time the environment has changed and our population has increased drastically.
"We do not know how lynx would behave in the current environment. Our biggest concern would be the impact on farm animals especially with lynx preying on lambs.
"These animals are farmers’ livelihoods and Kielder specifically is a remote upland area dependent on sheep farming."
The NSA is stressing the need for the correct steps to be taken and any licence application to be fully and independently consulted on.
Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, said: “We are dismayed that Lynx UK Trust is still pursuing plans to release lynx, as we do not share their belief that the UK has any suitable locations. We are too small an island and too densely populated.
“As Kielder Forest spans the border between England and Scotland, any licence application to release lynx there would have to be approved by both Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage.
"It would not be appropriate for any trial to go ahead without the express approval of both bodies, which could only happen after a full and independent consultation that goes over and above what Lynx UK claims to be doing to engage with stakeholders.
"Such consultation would reveal a wide range of very genuine concerns about introducing the lynx. These are not limited to sheep, but also the fragile balance of economics, environment and rural society, plus the welfare of the lynx themselves.”
Consultations with regional stakeholder organisations have now begun and the Trust will host an informal event on Thursday August 11 to meet and talk with locals about the potential reintroduction.
Dr O’Donoghue said: "This is by no means a final decision or a foregone conclusion.
"We’re very interested in what everyone in this region has to say about the idea. They could be living and working alongside the lynx in the near future, which really is an unprecedented opportunity in the history of UK wildlife reintroductions."
The CLA has said while it is 'not against the reintroduction of the lynx to the UK', the evidence to support a trial is not sufficient at this stage.
Director of policy and advice, Christopher Price said: "We are not against the principle of reintroducing the lynx to the UK, but we do not believe there is sufficient evidence at this stage to support a trial introduction at any of the proposed sites.
"Previous consultations carried out by the Lynx Trust have not been sufficiently objective and the information provided by the organisation has not always been accurate.
"Sheep farming is an important agricultural activity in Northumberland. If we use the figures from Norway then a UK population of 400 lynx could result in the predation of up to 4000 sheep per year, requiring compensation to farmers of up to £560,000 per year.
"With no indication that the UK government would fund any compensation scheme then the Lynx Trust must demonstrate it has the financial capacity to meet this cost in perpetuity.
"Most importantly we want to be sure that any decisions taken now do not give cause for regret in the future.
"The reintroduction of other species such as the beaver has been a steady and gradual process, which has enabled those involved to monitor and make adaptations as necessary along the way.
"Reintroducing the lynx would unlikely to give the same flexibility and there would need to be an exit strategy agreed at the outset, so that if needed there is an agreed plan in place, involving experts who can carry out mitigation measures and licences in place allowing the right management measures to be implemented."