Feelings were undoubtedly running high at last night’s first (of a promised series) local meeting in the Kielder area to discuss a proposal to reintroduce Eurasian Lynx to the forest. The proposal is being put forward by the Lynx UK Trust, a charity that promotes its reintroduction.
Paul O’Donoghue the project’s Chief Scientific Officer, started off by setting out a list of “facts” about lynx, but these assertions were quickly challenged by the audience setting the tone for a lively and heated exchange that went on for the best part of 2 hours, before being called to a halt by the Chairman of the local parish council who agreed to act as Chair for the evening. Mr O’Donoghue perhaps did not endear himself to the largely rural audience by claiming that “the British countryside was dying on its feet” and dismissing out of hand that lynx were any threat to game birds and of very little concern to livestock. He also told an audience member to be quiet as he was speaking, which did not go down well. Lynx he claimed were a massive rural regenerator and pointed to the example of the Hartz mountains in Germany. Yet there are no figures available for economic contribution of lynx in the Hartz mountains. There was also some misunderstanding in the early part of the meeting that 55% of National Farmers Union members were in favour of the reintroduction project and that the National Sheep Association and NFU were supportive of the choice of Kielder as a release site. However, clarification revealed that 55% of NFU members that had completed a self-selecting survey on the Trust’s website (in fact 66 NFU members) were in favour and that although the NFUS and NSA had attending a Trust meeting in Cumbria to discuss proposals, they had in no way endorsed Kielder or any other release site.
This meeting was the first in a promised series of local consultations. The Trust made it clear that they disliked national organisations attending these local discussions. Phil Stalker of the NSA came in for criticism from Mr O’Donoghue on the night, claiming that he had just come along to make trouble. In fact Mr Stalker had been in the north of England that day and had been asked to attend along by one of the local sheep farmers. Similarly the Scottish Chair of the NSA had been told not to attend by Mr O’Donoghue as she had already had her say as part of a national consultation. The audience though expressed concerns that the Lynx UK Trust had announced Kielder as a preferred site in the national press before coming to speak to locals and felt this project was being pushed upon them. A valid concern from Scottish Land & Estates perspective since we strongly advocate local discussions on any proposal at a very early stage.
Although the audience were denied a called for straw poll of opinion on the night, it was clear that this audience had little appetite to see lynx reintroduced to the Kielder forest, which far from dying on its feet, enjoys the benefits of mountain-biking tourisms and it’s dark skies drawing people to a well booked observatory.
While Scottish Land & Estates is sure there is a sensible debate to be had on the reintroduction of a number of species to the UK, this project seems unlikely to provide that debate and certainly not if it continues to be lead as it currently is.