Lynx should be reintroduced into Britain to control rising deer populations, a senior Oxford University ecologist has said.
By Matthew Moore
Last Updated: 3:18PM GMT 13 Feb 2009
The big cats, which were hunted to extinction in this country 500 years ago, would be the most effective way of enforcing the annual cull of 500,000 deer that experts say is necessary to protect the countryside, according to Professor David Macdonald.
The head of the university's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit said that the predators would pose no risk to humans, and has urged for dozens of the animals to be imported from eastern Europe.
East Anglia and the Highlands and Southern Uplands of Scotland would be among the prime candidates for lynx restoration, which has previously been tried in countries including France, Italy and Austria.
"As far as I am aware there has not been any recorded case of a lynx being a danger to people and they are the most practical candidates for reintroduction into the UK," Prof Macdonald said.
"There are all these deer that people are having to control and the lynx could help out. A few sheep would be killed but experience on the Continent shows that it is manageable."
There are thought to be more than two million deer in Britain, the highest level for a thousand years. Farmers blame them for eating crops, destroying woodland and threatening native bird and animal life.
The population rise is partly blamed on the lack of natural predators but Peter Watson, director of the Deer Initiative which is charged with managing the deer population, said that a lynx reintroduction would not solve the problem. Currently 350,000 deer are culled in Britain a year, mostly by shotgun.
"Despite current deer management programme the population is still increasing, so if you want to see the numbers stabilise or decline you need to do something else. But I'm not convinced that natural predators can provide the scale of culling that is necessary," he said.
"There is clearly an issue with domestic livestock and pets as well. In Switzerland, nearly 200 sheep were killed by lynx in one year."
Any lynx reintroduction scheme should first be trialed in Scotland where deer populations are highest compared to human habitation, he added.
A spokesman for Natural England was cautious about the plan.
"Lynx are also territorial and you would need some pretty large home ranges for them – if you are going to introduce up to 100 animals which is what would be needed, then only a vast tract of land would be suitable."
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