Farmers union highlight dangers of predators

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland has reiterated warnings about the reintroduction of predators – such as lynx and wolves – into the UK wild. 

Following on from a recent study to trip to Norway, the Union were informed that in 2016, the Norwegian authorities paid out compensation for nearly 20,000 sheep lost to carnivorous animals.

Over a third (34%) of the sheep killed were the result of wolverine attacks, with lynx, bear and wolf equating for around 21%, 15% and 9% respectively.

On home-turf, plans have been proposed to introduce lynx back into the UK in Kielder Forest, close to the Scottish border which has caused unceasing debate within the industry.

Last month, a lynx escaped from a zoo in Wales, which was blamed for the death of seven sheep.

Two of the sheep were partially eaten, whilst it appeared that the remaining five were killed out of carnivorous instinct. 

The NFU Scotland – a member of the National Species Reintroduction Form - has been told that it will be kept informed of application’s progress from Natural England.

Towards the opening of 2018, NFU Scotland will be given the opportunity to give its views to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove – who will be making the decision on the reintroduction rather than Natural England.

“Easily the biggest challenge Norwegian sheep farmers face is predation by large carnivores,” said NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy.

“Although sheep are housed for at least six months of the year, depending on which part of Norway you farm, when they graze up through the trees after lambing then they are extremely vulnerable. Predation has reduced over the past 10 years, but this isn’t because of fewer predators, but more to do with the fact that a number of hill farmers have simply stopped keeping sheep.”

Kennedy said that the Norwegian NFU believe that approximately 1,000 hill farmers have ceased to keep sheep over the past 10 years because they cannot carry on at the levels of predation they are experiencing.

“It’s all very well receiving the compensation but that doesn’t allow for the psychological impact that this scale of losses has on farmers,” he said. “Putting myself in their shoes, I can understand why they’ve given up.

“We are in this business to produce good quality food and looking after our animals is a priority, so to see a healthy breeding animal being taken out by a predator early in her life would be horrendous.

“The Norwegians told us that to reintroduce predators into our country would be an absolute catastrophe. Their experience has simply strengthened our resolve to ensure that any proposals to do the same in Scotland receive rigorous scrutiny. If they will have an unacceptable impact on farmers and crofters, the Union will act accordingly.” 

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