Reintroduction to Scotland

One of the main focuses of the Foundation is ecosystem management and restoration through natural processes.  Scotland no longer has any top predators and this has had a drastic impact on the environment.  We are very interested in re-wilding Scotland and strongly believe that we should reintroduce top predators, i.e. large carnivores, to restore the natural balance of ecosystems.  The lynx is one of the species that we would like to see reintroduced.  Early in 2012, Roy Dennis, who is a member of the National Reintroduction Forum for Scotland, submitted our aspirational list of species for reintroduction to the Forum, which is under the guidance of SNH.

There are a number of reasons why we believe lynx should be reintroduced:

1.) Moral obligations

The lynx once roamed Britain from the south to north coast, but massive deforestation over the centuries removed the cover that both the lynx and its prey required to survive.  This, coupled with intense persecution by man, brought about their extinction.  Humans are responsible for eradicating the species, so many people believe, the Foundation included, that we have a moral responsibility to bring it back.  Indeed, we are one of the only countries in Europe that has not undertaken large carnivore reintroductions.  Lynx reintroductions have been carried out in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republic.  Although not all have been successful, important lessons have been learned from these projects, and we remain one of the few countries that have not properly addressed the reintroduction of this native species.

2.) Legal obligations

We are required by EU law to examine the possibility of reintroducing species which have been lost.  The Bern Convention (1979) and the Rio Convention (1992) oblige us to encourage the restoration of native species, while the EC Habitats Directive (1992) directly obliges us to consider the desirability of reintroducing lost species such as the wolf (Canis lupus), brown bear (Ursus arctos), beaver (Castor fiber) and lynx (Lynx lynx).  IUCN guidelines state that the processes which caused the original extinction of the species must no longer be operating if it is to be considered for reintroduction and, in the case of the lynx, this is true.  Deforestation was the main cause of the lynx’s extinction in Britain, but Scotland has undergone a big programme of reforestation in the 20th century and, this, coupled with a massive growth in deer populations, means that we now have both ample habitat and prey for lynx to thrive in Scotland.

3.) The benefits of tourism

Poster used to promote lynx tourism in Harz National Park, Germany

The reintroduction of large carnivores such as the lynx could bring a great economic boost to rural areas of Scotland.  Wildlife tourism is big business, and people are particularly drawn by large carnivores such as lynx.  The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has brought an estimated extra $7-10million annually in tourism revenue, while tourism to Harz National Park in Germany has massively increased since the reintroduction of the lynx in 2000.

Scotland itself has benefited from wildlife reintroductions; the restoration of sea eagles on Mull brings £2.4 million to the island, and supports 110 jobs.  The chairman of VisitScotland has stated that he is in support of large carnivore reintroductions.

Where would they live?

Research by Dr. David Hetherington, funded by the HFW, found that a viable population could exist in Scotland north of the central belt, incorporating much of the highlands, with a smaller, less viable population in the Southern Uplands that could extend across the border into the English part of Kielder Forest.  It is thought that we could support a population of at least 450 lynx.

What would they eat?

Lynx are solitary hunters and rely on ambush to catch their favoured prey, small ungulates.  In Scotland, as across much of its European range, its main prey would be roe deer (Capreolus capreolus).  Roe deer are very widespread in Scotland, and exist in higher densities than in much of the lynx’s current European range.  However, lynx are also capable of taking larger deer species, and would likely take a number of red deer (Cervus elaphus) as well, which also exist in very high densities across the Scottish Highlands.  Due to a complete absence of large carnivores in the UK, Scotland’s deer populations have no predator to keep them in check and, as such, now exist as far greater densities than is ecologically sustainable.  This has resulted in large-scale overgrazing and huge damage to native forests and economic forestry interests.  The reintroduction of a species such as the lynx should help to reduce or at least re-distribute roe deer populations and ease the pressure on our remaining forests.  This would then encourage natural regeneration and promote a more diverse woodland structure, which in turn benefits other species.

The forest-loving roe deer would be the main prey species of lynx in Scotland

The reintroduction of top predators such as lynx would redistribute and reduce deer numbers and should help to reduce overgrazing



Aren’t they dangerous?

Although lynx are large carnivores, they do not pose any real threat to humans.  They are very secretive creatures and extremely wary of humans and are rarely seen even by people who live in the heart of lynx country.  They are a solitary species and do not hunt in packs.  Successful lynx reintroduction projects have seen the lynx restored to a number of human-modified landscapes of western and central Europe, most of which have far higher human population densities than the Scottish Highlands or Scottish Uplands.   There has never been a recorded instance in Europe of a lynx attacking a human.

What about their impacts on livestock and game species?

It cannot be said that lynx would never take livestock.  However, in its current European range, lynx depredation on domestic species is far less of an issue than that by other large carnivores such as wolves and bears.  Cattle are far too large to be taken by lynx, and they rarely take calves.  Sheep are a more likely target.  However, measures can be taken to reduce sheep depredation, such as guard dogs, and are used to great effect in the Carpathians, where sheep depredation is negligible.  The vast majority of attacks on sheep have been shown to occur on the forest edge, and sheep are mainly grazed in open habitats in Scotland, so this should be far less of a problem.  Lynx are predominantly a forest species, and so are not likely to hunt in open areas of grouse moorlands.  The main prey species would be roe deer, and the relatively small number taken should not adversely affect hunting interests.  Although they would likely take some red deer, the numbers of these would be minimal and have little impact on commercial red deer stalking.

For further information on lynx reintroduction, read David Hetherington’s excellent paper below, or his PhD thesis, part-funded by the HFW:

To read an excellent essay on lynx go to

The Lynx in Britain’s Past, Present & Future

Thesis: The feasibility of reintroducing the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) to Scotland