The northern or Eurasian lynx, Lynx lynx, was once a native British species. Exact dates of its extinction in the UK are not known but radiocarbon dating of fossil remains have shown that this large feline is likely to have been present in the wild in the British Isles until the early Medieval period, and perhaps even more recently via unconfirmed records.
The lynx is a secretive animal and highly dependent on woodlands for cover and den sites. Its main prey species are rabbits and roe deer, and its reintroduction could therefore potentially benefit forestry and agriculture. As with many extinct mammals in the UK, humans were the main cause of this large cat’s demise, most through persecution and hunting but also habitat loss and local extinction of prey species.
The reintroduction of lynx to the UK has been much discussed in recent years and applications for the reintroduction of animals that were once locally or nationally extinct can be controversial. However there are now examples, from both the UK and elsewhere in Europe, illustrating that well-managed programmes can be successful for species ranging from beaver to kite. Additionally, pressure to restore ecosystem functionality, the growth of the rewilding movement, and the legal imperative to consider reintroductions of extinct species to EU states under the Habitats Directive mean that that discussion of lynx reintroduction is timely.
The Mammal Society considers that Lynx reintroduction to Britain is a realistic proposition. However, it should only be undertaken once management and funding structures are in place to minimise risks to human interests, the environment, and animal welfare.
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