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The lynx effect - wild cats could be released into Thetford Forest

PUBLISHED: 09:15 09 March 2015 | UPDATED: 13:08 09 March 2015

Lynx

Photograph: Erwin Van Maanen

Lynx Photograph: Erwin Van Maanen

Erwin Van Maanen

Thetford Forest has been earmarked as one of three spots in the UK where lynx could be released into the wild, in the most ambitious “rewilding” scheme the country has seen.

Lynx

Photograph: Erwin Van Maanen
Lynx Photograph: Erwin Van Maanen

The Lynx UK Trust has been in talks with local landowners keen to be involved, and is due to launch a public consultation in the region within weeks.

If successful, the project would see the creature stalking the landscape for the first time since it became extinct in Britain more than 1,300 years ago.

Under the Trust’s plans, between four and six Eurasian lynx – males and females – would be released onto unfenced land in the Thetford Forest area.

The animals would be fitted with GPS collars, allowing their locations to be constantly monitored.

Paul O’Donoghue, a science adviser to the trust – which also wants to release the creatures in Cumbria and Aberdeenshire – said Thetford had been selected as an ideal location for the scheme.

“It has a high deer population and a relatively low human population,” he added. “We’ve got landowners who are interested and we are very excited about the scheme. We will be in the area shortly, for our public consultation. It will involve public meetings and face to face engagement. We want everyone to have their say.”

Once the consultation – due to start by the end of March – is completed, the trust will apply to Natural England for a licence to release the animals. The agency was not available for comment yesterday, but applies a very strict process to the granting of such permissions.

Dr O’Donoghue said the local landowners were not yet ready to publicly announce their involvement.

Lynx are roughly the size of a large dog and have powerful claws that allow them to climb trees. Their main prey are deer, although they also take hare and the occasional sheep.

Dr O’Donoghue added: “There is no risk whatsoever to any resident. The animals are found all over the northern hemisphere, and there has never been a single attack on any individual.

Supporters of the scheme say it will keep down deer numbers, which experts say have risen to numbers which harm the environment.

Dr O’Donoghue said that there would be little risk to livestock and pets because lynx stay away from people and do not hunt in exposed, open areas.

However, the proposal is likely to prove highly controversial and the NFU has expressed scepticism.

Thetford forest is wildly used by the public for leisure. One major consideration would have to be the presence of Center Parcs, which attracts thousands of visitors. Although it is surrounded by a fence, a lynx would be able to enter via the exits.

Councillor Mike Brindle, member for Abbey ward said: “It is a difficult situation. The forest is widely used and people will want to know if this is safe. There will be many questions that will need to be asked, will the lynx be in a controlled area? Is it possible to keep these animals contained?

“I hope the local councils will be consulted first as we need to speak on the behalf of the people in the area and those who use the park.”

Do you have a wildlife story? Email newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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