The Defra Secretary has decided not to grant a licence for the proposal following Natural England’s advice that the application did not meet the necessary standards set out in the IUCN guidelines.
Proposals to introduce six Eurasian lynx into Kielder Forest have been rejected on the grounds they had failed to demonstrate ‘how the risk of persecution of animals had been managed down to an acceptable level’.
Michael Gove said he had decided not to grant a licence for the proposal following Natural England’s advice that the application did not meet the necessary standards set out in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines, failing to give confidence that the project could be completed in practical terms in that the outputs would meet its stated aims.
In a letter to Lynx UK Trust chief executive Dr Paul O’Donoghue, the Defra Secretary said Natural England had found the proposal ‘lacked the necessary depth and rigour to provide confidence it would succeed’.
The project also lacked organisational resilience and did not evidence a securely held budget, he added.
Mr Gove said: “Significantly, the proposal did not include an ecological impact assessment and therefore the application lacked the assurances that impacts had been considered or that the area had been properly assessed as suitable for lynx at the current time.
“As far as could be seen, major landowners and managers, including Forestry Commission England, were either engaged insufficiently or not at all.
“In addition, the proposal did not demonstrate sufficient local support for the project and the socio-economic benefits of the trial were unclear.
“The lack of demonstrated local buy-in also fails to show how the risk of persecution of animals had been managed down to an acceptable level.”
He said Natural England had also found it was not clear how the trial would provide evidence to enable a decision on a full reintroduction, ‘as there was no coherent plan in place for monitoring lynx or impacts on other species, habitats or humans’.
National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive Phil Stocker, who has been fighting the proposals for almost four years, said: “We strongly believe this is the right decision, on ecological, social and agricultural grounds. Today’s victory is not just for farmers, but for the ecology of the area, the rural community and the farming economy.
“NSA first raised its concerns with Natural England in March 2015, so nearly four years ago when the release was first suggested and has been leading the charge ever since.
“Today’s announcement shows the effectiveness of our working with local farmers and community groups that share our concerns.
“The threat of the lynx against sheep was very real and we could not be happier that this isn’t a risk our members will have to face.”
NFU senior countryside adviser Claire Robinson added: “The Government’s decision to reject the application from the Lynx UK Trust to reintroduce lynx into the Kielder Forest will come as an enormous relief to the farmers in the area.
“The NFU’s opposition has always been underpinned by our concerns about the impact lynx could have on the welfare of livestock. The Secretary of State himself notes that the application had failed to demonstrate ‘local buy-in’ and Natural England’s evidence says that the NFU’s concerns were not addressed.
“The NFU will continue to monitor this specific case and respond accordingly to any developments.”