Book Discussion Series #2: The Lynx and Us

I could hardly contain my excitement when this came through the post a couple of weeks ago.

I mean, just look at it…

A very beautiful thing indeed.

It’s also extremely informative, balanced and well-written. Penned by Ecologist David Hetherington in scientific, yet lyrical prose, and punctuated with luminous photography from Laurent Geslin, the book explores the ecology and behaviour of these handsome creatures – including the possibility for the re-introduction of lynx in the UK.

The Lynx and Us was published by Scotland Big Picture, a social enterprise not-for-profit that produces visual media to promote the benefits of a wilder Scotland for people and wildlife via team of photographers, filmmakers, writers, designers and educators.

The Lynx and Us discusses Europe’s third largest carnivore at great length. The ecology of the lynx is clearly explained, including their behaviour, diet, habitat, and the book also addresses interactions with humans, the potential for tourism, successes and failures of re-introduction schemes and looks at conflict where there already are populations of the big(ish) cat in mainland Europe. Hetherington then goes on to look at the suitability of modern Britain (predominantly Scotland) as a case study.

And there certainly is a good case study for re-introduction here. As Hetherington so carefully explains, we have more deer (the chief prey of the lynx) than we can count, our deer hunting culture is not the same as the rest of Europe (and is almost completely limited to the elite) thus minimising potential conflict, wildlife viewing is hugely popular, and the way we farm is also different to the parts of Europe where conflict with the lynx exists.

One of the key take home messages is that lynx are almost exclusively woodland ambush hunters, thus meaning there is a low risk to livestock unless they are grazed in or near wooded areas. Livestock farmers have historically been one of the most anti re-introduction groups, but here in the UK sheep are generally grazed on open pasture and moorland making the likelihood of significant conflict a relatively low one, although localised incidents would of course be possible.

Added to this, unlike the wolf (the other candidate for large carnivore reintroduction), the lynx doesn’t conjure such an iconic or fearful image. This could be a good thing – if we have no cultural recollection, we have no deep-rooted fear of them. In fact, as the book highlights, they pose virtually no threat to humans, and in those infrequent, scantly-evidenced reports of attacks the majority of the animals appear to have been rabid.

The case is obviously not a cut and dry one, like any ecosystem there are subtle nuances that are often hard to anticipate. The book explains the complexities of lynx ecology. Sure, medium-sized deer are their preferred meal, but should these be in short supply they are not adverse to a spot of other delicacies such as hares, foxes and even the revered grouse and capercallie. Lynx also carry feline diseases which could potentially pose a threat to the endangered Scottish wildcat.

Hetherington is balanced in his view and measured in the way he addresses their ecological impact but also in addressing lynx-human conflict, acknowledging not only that it exists, but also that the concerns of those likely to be most affected need to be listened to and that adequate schemes (such as compensation for loss of livestock) need to be in place prior to any re-introductions. Hetherington states that both the positive and negative views of large carnivore reintroduction are valid and for successful reintroduction a consensus is needed “that will require everyone to listen and respect each other’s points of view, and perhaps, be prepared to give a little ground”.

The Lynx and Us comes as Europe is seeing widespread resurgence in apex predators naturally, and Scotland seems to be having a resurgence of wildlife (or at least wider presence on social media) all of its own, recently there have been increased sightings of and interest in killer whales, and we seem to be a favourite spot of Wally the Walrus, an extremely rare visitor to UK shores.

Hetherington states that it “seems likely that the British Isles will be the last corner of Europe to regain any of its missing large carnivores”. Seeing as lynx can neither swim long distance nor fly, the chances of them getting here without intervention is approximately nil. And of all the proposed terrestrial species for re-introductions, the lynx certainly seems to be a good (and good-looking) candidate.

I have written about re-wilding before and after reading this I am truly hopeful that we could see successful schemes involving lynx in the next few years. Fingers crossed re-introductions will continue to captivate the British public. A recent survey by Lynx UK Trust, Clifford Chance and the University of Cumbria, found that the of sample of 9600 members of the public the overwhelming majority were in favour of re-introductions. A figure of 91% overall agreed with the reintroduction of lynx to the UK, as part of a controlled and monitored scientific trial.

The Lynx and Us is a must read for anyone with an interest in what happens in our countryside, regardless which side of the debate on large carnivore re-introductions they come down upon.

Let’s work together to bring our “little lion” home!

Further info

The Lynx and Us can be purchased from Scotland Big Picture for £25 – every purchase helps spread the message!

Scotland Big Picture are also currently raising funds to distribute copies of The Lynx and Us to landowners and interested parties across Scotland for more information see their website.

For more information on wider re-wilding schemes visit Rewilding Britain and Rewilding Europe.

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