Lynx to benefit sheep industry, argues trust

The Lynx UK Trust has claimed that reintroducing the wild cat into the countryside will have “phenomenal potential” for the sheep sector. 

Tensions have been building over letting lynx back into the country, with the National Sheep Association (NSA) and National Farmers’ Union voicing their concerns about what impacts this could have on the industry.

In the latest development, the Lynx UK Trust has said the animals can actually be beneficial to the farming sectors. It cited the reintroduction of lynx to the Harz area of Germany as bringing millions of pounds to the economy. Hoping to mirror this success, the Lynx UK Trust is planning on creating a visitor centre in Kielder – where the six lynx will be released – as a hub for tourism and to create money from tourists to go towards the local community.

“Lynx are difficult animals to see, but that’s part of the charisma that draws people to try; the eco-tourism potential in Kielder is certainly worth millions of pounds over a five-year trial” said Steve Piper, the trust’s chief communications advisor. “We’ll help advise interested farmers on how they can take advantage of that, but what we really want to ensure is that some of the money is going directly to helping with the biggest threats to sheep: exposure, disease and malnutrition.”

The organisation highlighted that millions of avoidable lamb deaths happen each year in the UK, which could be avoided with better shelter, nutrition and healthcare.

“This can only be the result of chronic under-funding and there’s little to no leadership tackling the problem. We’ve had two years of the NSA’s reality-defying claims that six lynx will threaten the UK’s sheep industry and food security, but they’ve had almost nothing to say on the millions of lambs lost to welfare basics whilst they were busy doing that. I consider that an extremely poor representation of the industry; sheep farming needs solutions to the problems it faces, not scaremongering.

“A sheep welfare grant programme, funded by lynx eco-tourism, can help local farmers with things like building lambing shelters, effectively delivering vaccinations and other critical early-life care, maintaining fencing to reduce road kills – basics they need to do the exceptional job everyone knows British farmers are capable of. Even a fractional improvement would mean a lot more healthy sheep and a huge reduction in financial losses.”

The trust will use the reintroduction trial to explore sheep’s predators on a larger scale. Monitoring the population of the lynx and preventing predatory behaviour towards sheep is a key priority for the group. It will analyse predatory killing, maiming and stressing of sheep, leading to issues such as miscarriage, and then proceed to carry out preventative measures.

“The information we’ll collect from these studies has phenomenal potential for every sheep farmer in the UK,” said Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor at the trust. “There are some really exciting ideas from other countries, such as guardian animals like llamas. We’ve seen these successfully used in the Scottish Highlands to keep off foxes, and in an American study they reduced sheep kills from dogs and coyotes by 66%; half of those farms saw predation stop entirely.

“Those are astounding results, I’m amazed we don’t already see them widely in use; we might be able to reduce all sheep predation by two-thirds, just by providing farmers with llamas, paid for by the lynx.”

Piper agreed that if a lynx does kill a sheep, then compensation must be paid.

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