Scheme to reintroduce lynx to Thetford Forest is dropped

LynxPhotograph: Erwin Van Maanen

LynxPhotograph: Erwin Van Maanen - Credit: Erwin Van Maanen

A controversial scheme to reintroduce lynx into Thetford Forest has been abandoned.

The project was to have seen six Eurasian lynx released into the area, monitored by electronic tags, as part of the most ambitious 'rewilding' scheme the country has ever seen.

However, the Lynx UK Trust, which is behind the plans, has now announced it has dropped the Thetford scheme – although it is pushing ahead with reintroduction plans at sites in Aberdeenshire and Northumberland.

The organisation has conducted a nationwide consultation which it says shows strong support for the plans, with 90pc of participants in favour of reintroducing the lynx. The creature was once a feature of the British landscape, but has not been seen here for around 1,300 years.

However, landowners and farmers have voiced concerns about the scheme and Elizabeth Truss, the environment secretary and MP for South West Norfolk – which covers Thetford Forest – had expressed her opposition.

Paul O'Donoghue, chief scientific adviser to Lynx UK Trust, said it wanted to focus the project on a smaller number of possible sites. Proposed schemes in the Lake District and Argyll have also been abandoned. Ultimately, only one will be chosen from Aberdeenshire and Northumberland.

'We still think Thetford ticks all the boxes, it is just that some of the sites are much stronger contenders,' he said.

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'We spent a lot of time down in Thetford and we like the area, but we have to look at it very objectively and we have some great sites across the country.

'Unfortunately not everyone can have lynx at the same time.'

Supporters argue the presence of the animals could help to control the local deer population.

Opponents say the scheme presents a danger to the area's wildlife, livestock and biodiversity. Estates around Thetford, including the Euston and Elveden Estates, had previously expressed concerns.

Following the announcement from Lynx UK Trust, Joanne Briggs, from the National Sheep Association, said: 'We... are pleased that these reasons have forced Lynx UK Trust to discount Thetford Forest and the Lake District as potential release sites.'

She added that the NSA would continue its campaign against the trust's scheme.

Lynx UK Trust hopes to start local consultations next month, with the possibility that lynx could be reintroduced on the chosen site next year.

Dr O'Donoghue said that while Thetford would not be one of the first release sites, it could be considered again in the future.

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