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Bringing back the lynx

Reintroducing the Eurasian lynx could generate £68m for the UK
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The lynx has been extinct in Britain for more than 1,300 years, but reintroducing this species to the UK could generate total net benefits of £68 million over a 25-year period, according to a report produced by AECOM for the Lynx UK Trust.

This equates to £47 of estimated benefit for every £1 spent on managing the reintroduction of these big cats. Revenue from tourism alone is expected to reach £65.7 million over 25 years, providing sustained job creation in rural communities.

Trial programmes

The AECOM cost-benefit analysis was published in tandem with the launch of the Lynx UK Trust’s national stakeholder consultation, which will run until the new year.

The Lynx UK Trust is proposing a trial programme to reintroduce Eurasian lynx at several potential sites in the UK for an initial five-year period.

The AECOM report examines the potential costs, as well as the social, environmental and economic benefits, of a lynx reintroduction scheme at two proposed sites: Kielder Forest in Northumberland and Thetford Forest on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk.

A ‘compelling’ case

The economic benefits take into account the £1.4 million in costs over a 25-year period – £724,000 per site – of administering the reintroduction programme.

‘Our cost-benefit analysis shows that the argument for reintroducing lynx to the UK is compelling from an economic, social and environmental perspective.

‘At a time when the UK needs to think laterally and creatively to realise economic benefits, this is an idea worth exploring, particularly due to the potential ecotourism and job opportunities in rural communities.’

Chris White, senior environmental economist at AECOM

The Eurasian lynx

The Eurasian lynx was the largest species of wild cat in Britain for more than 10,000 years, dying out as civilisations grew more advanced and human activities such as deforestation, hunting and trapping became common practice.

Wild lynx have been extinct in Britain for more than 1,300 years. Although they have disappeared from the UK, lynx can still be found in Western Europe, Russia and Central Asia.

They live in woodlands, hunt deer and are highly elusive. Adults vary in size from 80–130 cm in length (up to 70 cm at the shoulder) and can weigh 18–30 kg.

Impact on farming

The proposed reintroduction would be managed very carefully, with a small number of lynx introduced at the selected test sites for a five-year trial period.

AECOM’s cost-benefit analysis found minimal negative predation impact as lynx prefer deer, their natural prey, rather than livestock or domestic pets – though they will occasionally hunt sheep.

Based on studies in Europe, it is estimated that each lynx would be expected to kill around one sheep every two-and-a-half years, which equates to an average of nine sheep a year across the two proposed sites.

In comparison, there were a reported 739 dog attacks on sheep in 2012 and an estimated 2–6 million lambs lost per year due to natural mortality, disease and malnutrition.

Compensating farmers

The cost-benefit analysis accounts for the cost of compensation to farmers – at twice the maximum market price of £140 per sheep – which totals £19,000 over 25 years for any sheep lost to lynx at the two proposed sites.

Expected improvement in crop yield due to the reduced deer population at these sites is £720,000 over the same period, an amount far greater than the predicted economic impact of sheep loss, suggesting the reintroduction could have a positive effect on UK agriculture.

Environmental impact

Along with these economic benefits, lynx reintroduction would help to restore natural processes in the UK’s ecosystems by enabling a natural balance between predator and prey, helping to manage the population of deer and foxes.

This will allow forests and woodlands to regenerate naturally, creating new undergrowth habitats for birds and other native wildlife. In fact, this natural method of controlling deer populations is estimated to result in savings of up to £1.7 million over 25 years for forestry operations alone.

Click here to find out more about the Lynx UK Trust.

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