ECOS 39 (3): Book Review: THE LYNX AND US

ECOS 39(3)

THE LYNX AND US

David Hetherington and Laurent Geslin

Scotland the Big Picture

2018

170 Pages

Hardback £25

ISBN: 978-0-9568423-2-9

Review by James Thomson

The opportunities and challenges of bringing back Lynx to Britain

The idea of reintroducing Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) to Britain has grown in profile since BANC and ECOS first raised the issue with Peter Taylor in their 2005 sponsored book Beyond Conservation. With this his first book, David Hetherington answers many questions on the lynx and invites us to reflect on the kind of relationship that we want to have with Europe’s largest official cat species.

Five years ago I wrote an article for ECOS:  ‘Letting the cat out of the bag: Eurasian lynx reintroduction in Scotland’ .[1] I had met with gamekeepers, land managers, chief executives, bureaucrats, crofters and ecologists around Scotland for my MSc thesis on the topic. For the MSc I even got several different camps together in Edinburgh one afternoon to discuss it. Nobody fell out. 

From low-key meetings between policy advisors in Scotland, to a social-media fuelled wrangle over the pros and cons of the project following the creation of the UK Lynx Trust (UKLT) in 2014 [2], the evolution of debate on lynx reintroduction has been rapid and at times unpredictable. 

David Hetherington has been quiet during this time. Away from the heat that the UK Lynx Trust has attracted for its reintroduction licence applications[3], David has been diligently preparing an anthology of text and imagery about the Eurasian lynx for us to better understand its place in our world. His collaborator for the book is the French photographer Laurent Geslin, who’s website is well worth a visit on the topic of lynx. http://www.laurent-geslin.com/ 

Using high-end camera traps, many of the lynx in the book captured by photographer Laurent Geslin evoke a sense of vulnerability and fragility. Set against the amber glow of Switzerland’s sleepy alpine towns, the chamois, roe deer and other prey emerge from the deep forest to reveal their portrait. 

Laurent’s essay on photographing lynx in the Swiss Jura is eye opening. It documents the work of conservation group KORA[4] and explains how he forged friendships with local farmers and hunters. David Hetherington has also spent many years on the continent, learning how other nations have supported the integration of lynx with other land users, sometimes moving them between regions to bolster populations or widen gene pools.

Reflecting on this experience, David notes that we will become the last corner of Europe to nurture any of our missing large land carnivores back to life. Our dense networks of roads and railways would no doubt be problematic for any reintroduced lynx, as would their potential interactions with sheep. Yet as we learn in this book, lynx do quietly exist within and between populated landscapes, most often without our knowledge. The question stands, are we willing and prepared to welcome them home for good?

This is one of the most honest and up to date accounts of the opportunities and risks that you will find on the topic. The Highlands of Scotland, where David would like to see the Eurasian lynx again, are geographically similar to parts of Switzerland and Norway. Although predation of sheep by lynx is minimal in Switzerland, in Norway, where sheep are allowed to roam in open forests, farmers report sheep losses in the thousands each year.

These farmers are fully compensated for any sheep reported killed by lynx, but that tension has led John Linnell, a scientist with the Norwegian Institute of Nature Association (NINA), to question if the investment required to reintroduce the lynx to Britain is worth it. He states that restoring large carnivores “often requires far greater effort than was expended to persecute them in the first place” and that our quest to do so can be at the personal expense of the animals that we are trying to support.[5]

Confronted with an image of a poached lynx undergoing a post-mortem at the KORA research lab, The Lynx and Us doesn’t shy away from these complexities, or the effort that would be required to make the project work for all stakeholders, including the lynx. In fact, David goes to great lengths to make the book relevant to all readers - especially those who might traditionally be wary of such a project - including deerstalkers, gamekeepers and sheep farmers.

Despite Lloyds underwriting an insurance policy for the UKLT pilot project for every sheep in the UK [6], the National Sheep Association and the National Farmers Union remain opposed to the licence application by the UKLT. The commercial forestry sector on the other hand, more powerful than ever - especially in Scotland – is yet to voice a view on the idea. As David explains, lynx could make a dent on deer numbers, saving money and effort on exhaustive deer culls[7] and fencing measures to manage their population.

One of the most relevant chapters comes at the end of the book - the business case. Project costs might be tricky to predict, but there are multiple benefits beyond the ecosystem services that lynx should bring. David feels that lynx would attract more visitors to wilder parts of Scotland, adding to the country’s £1.4bn nature-based tourism industry, comparing how other European nations from Germany through to Latvia have maximised revenue from the presence of lynx and people’s desire to experience the same environment even if they don’t see one.

Once Natural England has processed the UKLT lynx license application, unless the project is given the green light, it seems unlikely that we'll see any more lynx reintroduction proposals in the immediate future. But when we do, after reading David’s book, we’ll be fully clued up and prepared for what to expect when new ideas surface. 

 

References

[1] Letting the cat out of the bag: Eurasian lynx reintroduction in Scotland. ECOS (33) 1, 2012

[2] http://www.lynxuk.org

[4] http://www.kora.ch

[5]http://www.kora.ch/malme/05_library/5_1_publications/L/Linnell_2003_Knowledge_at_what_price.pdf

[6] https://www.verdict.co.uk/green-brexit-lynx-farmers/

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/feb/20/deer-cull-dilemma-scottish-highlands

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