‘Let the lynx roam free in Scotland again’

Published Date: 30 October 2008
By Jenny Haworth
 
LYNX should be brought back to Scotland, animals should be given legal rights and a third of the country should be set aside for wildlife, according to the controversial head of a nature organisation.
 
Roy Dennis, director of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, thinks action to improve Scotland’s wildlife takes too long and is steeped in too much red tape, and he called for some drastic new approaches.
 
He put across his views at a conference in Edinburgh yesterday.
 
He wants the lynx, a wild cat that was native to Scotland before it was hunted to extinction thousands of years ago, re-introduced as soon as possible.
 
He asked the Scottish Natural Heritage conference: “So when can the lynx come home? We know there’s loads of room. There’s lots of food. There’s lots of space for a big, viable population to return.”
 
The idea of reintroducing lynx has raised fears, particularly from the farming sector, that the animals would kill large numbers of lambs.
 
However, proponents of the idea think lynx would help control red deer populations that are growing out of control, and should be returned to Scotland because they were previously part of our natural world.
 
Mr Dennis, who was made an MBE for his services to nature conservation in Scotland in 1992, does not think human concerns should be a barrier to bringing the animal back.
The professional ornithologist and wildlife consultant told The Scotsman: “I don’t think everything we do should be for the benefit of humans. We have a moral responsibility. We killed it off, so we should bring it back.”
 
However, he added that he fears it is such a “sociopolitical” issue that it will take 20 years of debate before anything can happen, because there is a “disproportionate amount of control” on conservation action.
 
He thinks too much research is carried out, rather than action being taken on the ground.
“Often we just need to get on with something. I think there must be much more thinking on the hoof.” And he described it as “absolutely barmy” that it has taken so long to get the programme to reintroduce the beaver up and running.
 
The animals are due to be released next year in Scotland, in a trial study, after years of lobbying by environmental groups. Mr Dennis also suggested the Scottish Government should create new laws that give legal rights to nature, similar to a system in Ecuador introduced last month, where members of the public can sue on nature’s behalf in courts.
 
The country was the first in the world to bring in the measures.
 
He also told the audience at the conference that he wants 30 per cent of Scotland set aside for wildlife, in order to preserve the natural world.
 
Colin Galbraith, director of policy at Scottish Natural Heritage, complimented Mr Dennis for “pushing the arguments out” but said it is too early to think about reintroducing the lynx.
“I think lynx is over the horizon,” he said. “The people of Scotland have to get used to one mammal reintroduction, with the beaver. Let’s see how they do first.”
 
He disagreed that it is best to act, rather than gather evidence. “I think we need a slightly more cautious approach,” he said. “Let’s not delay things forever but let’s do things to minimise the risk in light of the evidence we have got.”
 
And he questioned whether the Ecuadorian system of legal rights could be implemented. “Scotland actually leads the way in Europe in protection of its wildlife,” he added.
 
WHAT NEXT
 
BEAVERS are to be reintroduced to Scotland 400 years after they were hunted to extinction.
 
Wildlife experts are in the process of trying to catch three or four families of the animals from rivers in Norway. They will then be put in quarantine for six months, before being set free at Knapdale, Argyll, next spring.
 
The project is a trial, and if successful the reintroduction programme could be extended to other parts of Scotland.
 
The Scottish Wildlife Trust was given the go-ahead for the trial in May by the Scottish Government.
 
Other species that once existed in Scotland include the wolf, lynx and bear.
 
Sea eagles have already been reintroduced to Scotland.
 
The second phase of a programme of reintroduction on the east coast was completed last month when 15 of the birds were let into the wild in Fife.
 
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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at https://bigcatrescue.org
 
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