Fears raised that lynx could deter tourists from coming to Borders
Letting lynx loose south of Carter Bar could scare away more tourists than it attracts, environment chiefs have been warned.
The Lynx UK Trust has applied for consent for a trial release of six of the wildcats in Kielder Forest, just south of the border with England, and consultation over those plans is now under way.
Borders farmers fearful of attacks on their sheep by Eurasian lynx roaming north into Scotland are opposed to the proposals, and now the Northumberland National Park Authority has expressed reservations about them too.
A report to a special meeting of the authority held to agree on a response to be made to Natural England, as part of the consultation process ahead of a decision being made by UK Government Environment Secretary Michael Gove, raises various concerns about the plans.
“The suitability of Kielder for a full reintroduction is not proved by the current information available, undermining its potential as a trial site.
“The cost-benefit analysis is likely to have overestimated visitor numbers and spend and underestimated the impact on livestock farming.
“It would be wise to assess whether the reintroduction of lynx might actually deter people from visiting.
“Some visitors, including families with young children, are sometimes deterred from visiting an area they perceive as too wild.”
Concerns were also raised about the risk posed to sheep, it being predicted that two or three a year would be killed by a six-strong lynx population.
“The level of potential predation by lynx on sheep in this location is an unknown quantity and can only be assumed from reported figures and grazing conditions in Europe that vary widely,” says the report.
“Across Europe, between none and 10.5 sheep per lynx per year have been reported taken. Excluding Norway, where sheep graze in woodlands, the average is 0.4 per lynx per year.
“Where sheep graze close to forest, as in some areas around Kielder, the rate of predation may be higher and may exceed the European average.”
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton shares the reservations raised at the authority’s meeting in Hexham, saying: “Legitimate concerns have been raised about the proposed reintroduction for some time, and we still do not have good enough answers to them.
“Tourism and agriculture are a huge part of the Borders economy, and this reintroduction now threatens both.”