Across mainland Europe, the Eurasian lynx is staging a comeback, benefiting from increasing public interest and reduced hunting pressure. Lynx continue to face localised threats from poaching, habitat fragmentation and the isolation of some smaller populations, but overall the population is growing and expanding its range, aided by successful reintroduction programmes across Europe.

Meanwhile, Scotland remains part of a shrinking group of European countries that no longer benefit from the presence of any of their native large carnivores. If we are serious about tackling the nature and climate emergencies, we need lynx back.

The Lynx to Scotland partnership has been working towards a trial reintroduction of lynx. This would be the first time that a large mammalian predator has been returned to any part of the UK. It would require approval by the Scottish Government, following habitat assessments and full public consultation. 



Improving public knowledge

Centuries have passed since the lynx was driven to extinction in the UK, resulting in knowledge gaps around what their return to our modern landscapes might mean.

Looking at examples from around Europe, Lynx to Scotland has been working to improve public understanding of the potential benefits and challenges of living with these shy and elusive hunters, which have successfully returned to countries such as Germany, France and Switzerland.

Identifying key concerns

In 2021, as part of ongoing efforts to gauge the feasibility of the lynx’s return, Lynx to Scotland commissioned a comprehensive assessment of public and stakeholder attitudes to a possible reintroduction.

The study sampled opinions from farmers, gamekeepers, foresters, conservationists, landowners, tourism operators and rural communities, revealing a broad spectrum of perspectives. It found an appetite from a diverse range of stakeholders and communities to examine whether potential barriers to a reintroduction can be overcome. The findings have now been carried forward to an impartial, cross-sector Lynx Focus Group. 

Evaluating ecological conditions

Building on previous studies assessing the conditions needed to sustain a viable Scottish lynx population, Lynx to Scotland has commissioned advanced modelling to consider the current extent of suitable habitat, availability of prey and the dispersal range of any animals released.

A licence for a trial reintroduction would also take account of practical considerations, such as the most suitable release site(s), how many lynx will be needed and where the animals might come from.

All of these questions and others, form part of the requirements of the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.


The Lynx to Scotland partnership is seeking a mandate for a trial reintroduction of lynx to Scotland. This ambition remains dependent on a range of ecological, social and economic factors.

During 2024, the partners will convene a cross-sectoral group of stakeholders to objectively assess the benefits and challenges of a reintroduction to Scotland.




What is a lynx?

There are four species of lynxes: the Iberian lynx (found in Spain and Portugal), the Canada lynx (native to Canada and the Northern United States), the bobcat (ranging from Northern Mexico to southern Canada) and the Eurasian lynx (the species that once lived in Scotland and is still found across much of Europe and Asia).

The Eurasian lynx – usually referred to as ‘the lynx’ in Scotland – is the largest lynx species, with an adult body mass of 12-28 kg (males are, on average, slightly larger than females). Several subspecies of Eurasian lynx have been identified, including the Carpathian lynx, the Balkan lynx, the Caucasian lynx and the Northern lynx (Lynx lynx lynx, found across Fennoscandia, the Baltic states and Poland).

When did the lynx go extinct in Scotland?

Bones discovered in a cave in North Yorkshire suggest that lynxes were present as late as the fifth or sixth century AD in England. However, in the wilder corners of Scotland, it is probable that lynx survived for longer. A 16th-century letter to the famous Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner described the best lynx skins in Europe coming from Sweden and Scotland, although it has been suggested that the ‘Scottish’ skins may have been imports. However, Richard Pococke’s Tour of Scotland book, written in 1760, describes what might have been a population of lynxes surviving near Auchencairn in Dumfries and Galloway. 

Why did the Scottish lynx go extinct?

As human activity made both woodland and deer increasingly rare in Britain over the centuries, lynx lost their preferred habitat and their prey base. On top of this, the lynx would have been subject to direct persecution by hunters and farmers, creating an unsustainable combination of pressures. With no immigration possible from Europe, these pressures eventually led to the lynx’s local extinction. 

How much space do lynx need?

Male lynx patrol territories about twice the size of those maintained by their female counterparts, with both sexes defending their territories against same-sex competitors, and each male’s territory overlapping those of several females. Where prey is abundant, a lynx territory may cover less than 100 km2, but where prey is scarce territories can be much larger, occasionally covering more than 2000 km2. Due to the abundance of potential prey, Scotland is likely to be able to support relatively high lynx densities, in the range of 0.5-3 lynx per 100 km2, and even higher population densities are possible. Lynx territories may also be smaller on the expanding edges of a reintroduced population, becoming larger as the population stabilises over time.

Importantly, lynx do not depend on human absence, or vast areas of unpopulated ‘wilderness.' Lynx avoid humans, but are quite capable of living in human-dominated landscapes, adjusting their activity around people and retreating to woodland refugia during the day. Indeed, because lynx maintain such large territories, nature reserves are rarely enough to maintain viable populations exclusively within their boundaries. Consequently, all European lynx populations occur partly outside protected areas, in multi-use landscapes with relatively low human population densities (22-74 people per km2), thriving wherever conditions are favourable and people allow.

Are lynx dangerous?

No. When lynx detect people, their first instinct is to move away. The very few cases where lynx have injured humans have all been incidents with wounded, captive, or rabid lynx. You are much more likely to be attacked by a dog, a cow, or even a deer. Lynx could attack dogs, especially if they are perceived to threaten their kittens, but even these (defensive) attacks are rare.

What might limit the size of a Scottish lynx population?

Populations of apex predators like lynx are not naturally controlled by so-called ‘top-down factors’, whereby another predator (such as humans) limits their numbers, although some European lynx populations are limited by poaching (e.g. in Switzerland and the Czech Republic) as well as collisions with vehicles. Instead, lynx are normally limited by ‘bottom-up factors’, primarily the amount of suitable habitat (providing hunting opportunities, secure denning sites and refuges from disturbance) and the availability of potential prey. Once any lynx population outgrows these resources, more animals die of starvation or in conflict with conspecifics, in the same way that nature limits the population of predators like otters or eagles.

Is there enough suitable habitat in Scotland?

Research led by Dr David Hetherington in 2008 identified ±15,000 km2 of potential lynx habitat in Highland Scotland and ±6,000 km2 in Scotland’s Southern Uplands, with the two habitat networks separated by Scotland’s highly developed (and effectively impenetrable) central belt. Applying potential lynx densities of 2.63 lynx per 100 km2 across the Highlands and 0.83 lynx per 100 km2 in the Southern Uplands (with these density projections based on available prey biomass) suggested that the Highlands habitat network could support up to 400 lynx, while the Southern Uplands habitat network could support around 50 cats. Furthermore, the amount of Scottish woodland habitat suitable for lynx has increased since 2008 (and continues to increase).

In 2019, research led by Dr Thomas Ovenden again strongly supported the likely viability of a Eurasian lynx reintroduction to Scotland given the current extent of suitable woodland habitat, further noting the desirability of releasing at least 32 individual lynx at multiple reintroduction sites, to maximise the chances of successfully establishing a population with long-term viability.

Dr Deborah Brady’s team at The Lifescape Project has also recently produced a technical feasibility study, which highlighted the advantages of multiple releases, ideally involving at least 20 lynx with diverse genetic origins. They similarly concluded that Scotland already supports enough suitable habitat to maintain a viable population of lynx, with the northern and southern habitat networks likely to be able to support 200-250 and 50 lynx respectively.

Is there enough wild prey to support the return of the lynx?

In most of Europe, the main prey items for lynx are chamois and roe deer, making up 90% of all prey items in five Swiss studies (61% roe deer), while in Germany, roe deer made up 82% of identified prey remains. Lynx may however be more likely to tackle larger ungulates like red deer in the absence of competition from other large carnivores, or where red deer are much more common than roe deer – as they are in parts of the Highlands – although red deer would only be likely to be targeted around the lynx’s woodland habitats. Indeed, red deer form up to 72% of a lynx’s diet in some parts of Europe. Even here, however, the larger male lynx tend to kill red deer more frequently than females, with mature stags targeted least often. However, the smaller size of red deer in Britain may encourage lynx to target red deer more regularly and could also reduce their reluctance to tackle stags.

A single roe deer can provide a lynx with food for a week, with lynx returning to such kills over 3-5 nights. Predation rates vary; one Swedish study recorded male lynx killing an average of 4.9 roe deer every 30 days, while females with kittens killed 6.2 deer every 30 days and solitary females killed just 2.7 deer in the same period. In Poland, lynx killed an average of 1 deer every 5.4 days. Each lynx might thus kill around 50-70 deer in a year, meaning 12,500 to 17,500 deer a year for a population of 250 lynx. By comparison, human hunters cull at least 40,000 roe deer and around 80,000 red deer across Scotland every year. Furthermore, these cull figures are likely to be underestimates, especially for roe deer, with the true number being culled up to 100,000. 

Deer numbers in Scotland are difficult to establish precisely, and perceptions of the abundance and distribution of woodland deer, particularly roe deer, are contested. However, NatureScot estimate there are approximately 300,000 roe deer in Scotland, up to 400,000 red deer on open ground and up to 105,000 red deer in woodlands – more than enough to sustain an offtake of 10,000 to 14,000 deer a year by lynx, even before allowing for Scotland’s population of around 25,000 Sika deer and at least 8,000 fallow deer, which lynx might also target, according to their relative availabilities within lynx ranges. Furthermore, climate change is resulting in greater plant growth, which is generally translating into better conditions for deer growth and reproduction.

What effect might lynx have on Scotland’s deer numbers?

The lynx is an unusually specialised hunter of roe deer, so much so that it has been observed that lynx can affect roe deer densities and roe deer can affect lynx densities. However, because the lynx is such an efficient predator of roe deer, kill rates only decline once roe deer densities fall below about 1 deer per km2. When lynx predation is then added to other types of mortality (such as human hunting pressure, traffic accidents and other natural mortality), lynx can have a significant impact on roe deer densities, especially where the initial roe deer population is small, or unnaturally clustered. However, where roe deer are common, lynx may have little noticeable impact on deer numbers or behaviour.

Still, stalking-type ambush predators (like lynx) can exert stronger effects on prey populations than more selective coursing-style predators (like wolves), and predation of healthy adult roe deer could reduce the population growth rate. Ultimately, the impact of lynx predation will vary between sites with differing roe deer densities and lynx numbers. Nonetheless, comparisons with Europe make it clear that roe deer densities are typically lower where lynx are present and have decreased where lynx have become re-established. Furthermore, it seems likely that should the lynx’s range come to overlap with that of muntjac (or other smaller deer), their densities would also be reduced.

Reintroduced lynx would probably have a lower impact on red deer populations due to a general preference for hunting roe deer, even at lower densities, and the fact that the open hill habitats where many red deer populations occur are also not the type of habitats typically frequented by lynx. Based on body sizes and habitat use, the impacts on fallow and sika deer might be somewhat greater, and it has been suggested that Sika might be especially vulnerable to lynx predation, owing to their having evolved in the absence of any large felid predators throughout most of their native range.

How else might lynx affect deer?

Lynx would never be likely to kill as many deer as human hunters, but their predatory influence could be a useful addition to existing deer control efforts, and would also affect which deer might be killed, as well as where and when, meaning the lynx’s ecological impact might add up to more than just the sum total of deer killed.

Predation pressure can encourage behavioural changes, creating a so-called ‘landscape of fear’, with prey responses ranging from increased vigilance to avoidance of high-risk areas. Anecdotally, forest managers have described how deer quickly learn which areas to avoid in relation to risk from human hunters. However, the evidence for such behavioural responses to lynx remains limited. In Norway, roe deer do not appear to avoid habitats associated with high lynx predation risk and recolonization by lynx has had little impact on roe deer habitat selection. There is also no evidence yet of habitat recovery being directly linked to any of the various lynx reintroductions across Europe.

This may reflect a lack of study in some areas, or a lack of time elapsed since these reintroductions began, but the observed lack of response to lynx predation may also reflect the remarkable efficiency of this stalking predator, with prey species offered few opportunities to learn to avoid lynx. By contrast, coursing predators like wolves create much greater disturbance in the landscape and when they take one or two individuals from a herd, it allows survivors to adapt by changing their behaviour.

Red deer reduced the time they spent in a foraging area as well as their browsing intensity within plots laced with large carnivore scat and urine, but this effect was more pronounced with wolf scent than lynx (actually bobcat) scent. Another study revealed that roe deer respond to the olfactory cues present in Eurasian lynx urine by increasing their vigilance dramatically, but do so only temporarily in the immediate wake of scent detection, while roe deer exhibited similar levels of overall vigilance in areas with and without lynx.

On the other hand, roe deer may become more nocturnal when the background level of general human disturbance is high. This effect is most pronounced during the hunting season, with the influence of hunting greatest in less disturbed areas. However, this pattern varies in relation to lynx density. Indeed, in the presence of lynx, roe deer are relatively more diurnal. This alone could lead to some interesting changes in ecosystem functioning. For example, any shift towards more diurnal activity could decrease levels of tick infestation and, hence, reduce the dispersal of ticks and tick-borne diseases over the landscape.

What else do lynx eat apart from deer?

Most of a lynx’s diet is made up of small ungulates like roe deer and chamois, but they have also been recorded eating a wide variety of other prey items, including red foxes, European brown hares, mountain hares, capercaillie, black grouse, red squirrels, stone martens, pine martens, raccoon dogs, marmots, wild boar, badgers, wildcats, domestic cats, goats and sheep. However, except for foxes, these other species are targeted only rarely. Out of 1069 documented prey items recorded across two decades in Switzerland, lynx killed 655 roe deer, 295 chamois, 53 foxes, 25 brown hares, 13 white hares, 9 sheep, 8 marmots, 2 stone martens, 2 domestic cats, 2 goats and just 1 each of red deer, pine marten, wildcat, capercaillie, black grouse and red squirrel.

After small ungulates, foxes are the next most common prey item. One ten-year study of lynx in the Swiss Jura mountains recorded adult male lynx killing an average of 2.3 foxes per year, while subadults killed 6.1 foxes per year (perhaps because younger lynx found it harder to tackle larger ungulate prey) and lynx with kittens killed 13.3 foxes annually (likely in response to a perceived threat to their offspring), giving a weighted average of 4.8 foxes per lynx per year. Notably, this did not cause any decrease in the abundant Swiss fox population, but where initial fox densities are lower – as they are in parts of Highland Scotland – lynx predation may significantly reduce fox numbers, especially where it is added to existing fox control efforts by gamekeepers and land managers.   

Would lynx represent a threat to declining species like capercaillie or rare and recovering species like wildcats?

There is no record of any negative impact on capercaillie or wildcat populations following lynx reintroductions. In fact, the opposite has been true, with data from Finland and Sweden suggesting that several species, including mountain hares, capercaillie and black grouse, have enjoyed localised increases following recolonisation by lynx – thought to be a result of the lynx’s suppression of foxes in these areas. Crucially, initial fox densities were low in these regions, meaning that lynx predation could then have a significant impact on fox numbers, leading to a decline in the overall level of predation experienced by populations of mountain hares, capercaillie and black grouse, even if lynx very occasionally killed some individuals.

In the case of capercaillie, the long-term decline of the Scottish population has been attributed to a wide variety of pressures, from predation by foxes, corvids and pine martens, to climate change, parasitic sheep ticks, habitat change and disturbance. Furthermore, recently modelled data suggest that in the absence of deer fencing, capercaillie numbers could be 16% higher, with their risk of extinction within the next 50 years falling from 95% to just 3%. Another recent study suggested that diversionary feeding might substantially reduce predation of capercaillie nests by pine martens and badgers. Notably, lynx would provide such ‘diversionary’ feeding opportunities for these other predators naturally, through their year-round provision of large carcasses, and could also reduce the need for deer fencing.

Wildcats could also benefit from a lynx reintroduction in various ways, by improving access to scavenging opportunities, especially in the lean winter months, and through their suppression of foxes, which could reduce competition for wildcats. Any increase in woodland connectivity, either motivated by or resulting from the lynx reintroduction, would also benefit wildcats, while the presence of lynx might discourage feral cats from occupying wilder woodland habitats, reducing competition for wildcats and lowering the risk of hybridisation. Taken together, these potential benefits are likely to outweigh the negative impact of very occasional direct predation by lynx on individual wildcats.

What benefits could lynx offer?

Reintroducing lynx could yield a variety of ecological benefits, boosting biodiversity, restoring natural processes, generating revenue from tourism and potentially reducing costs linked to deer (including costs from crop damage and vehicle collisions). More profoundly, the return of the lynx would right what many view as a historical wrong, encourage hope that ecological impoverishment can be reversed and offer Scotland’s citizens the opportunity to experience the awe and excitement that can only be felt when sharing a landscape with such a charismatic animal.

Reintroducing a missing species immediately increases biodiversity in terms of species richness, but the return of an apex predator like the lynx can boost biodiversity in more subtle ways. By leaving large carcasses on the forest floor (not just the gralloch left by human hunters), a lynx provides food for other species, from soil microbes to eagles. And if lynx predation drives a localised reduction in deer densities, or if predation pressure leads to a change in deer behaviour, this could also reduce browsing damage to young saplings, boosting woodland regeneration. Even the carcasses left by lynx can aid woodland regeneration, creating breaks in understorey vegetation and providing a pulse of nutrients which saplings can exploit.

Because lynx regularly kill foxes, often not even eating their carcasses, lynx could also benefit a variety of rare and declining species by alleviating the pressure they experience from fox predation. Data from Finland and Sweden revealed that several species which are often targeted by foxes, including mountain hares, capercaillie and black grouse, all enjoyed localised increases following recolonisation of their regions by lynx, thought to be a result of the lynx’s suppression of foxes in these areas.

Reintroducing lynx could further yield a variety of socioeconomic benefits, exciting public interest and driving a boost in tourism. Here, a useful comparison can be made with the impact of sea eagles returning to Mull. In 2019, nearly half a century after sea eagles were reintroduced, a quarter of visitors cited sea eagles as one of the reasons motivating their visit, while 3.5% cited it as the main reason. These visitors have been estimated to add a minimum of £4.9 million per year to the Mull economy, supporting between 98 and 160 full-time equivalent jobs.

Lynx are harder to see than sea eagles, but their cryptic nature does not deter tourist interest. In Germany’s Harz Mountains, a similar methodology was recently used to assess how many people were attracted to the area by the lynx which were reintroduced in 1999. Here, 49.3% of visitors identified lynx as one of the main reasons motivating their visit, while 4.2% listed lynx as the main reason. However, 12% of visitors admitted that they would have been less likely to visit if they had known they were unlikely to see a wild lynx. Even after taking this into account, the presence of wild lynx in the Harz Mountains is estimated to generate £7 -11 million each year.

Lynx hunting activity could also reduce some of the costs associated with deer. Deer damage costs Forestry and Land Scotland an estimated £3 million each year, while costs linked to habitat damage (e.g. peatlands), agricultural crops and Lyme disease add up to further significant costs for Scotland as a whole. Other costs include those incurred from vehicle collisions (£13.8 million a year according to one 2007 study), while deer management and fencing costs tens of millions every year.

Lynx predation could usefully complement human efforts to control deer, especially in dense forest where deer are inaccessible to hunters, but it is difficult to predict exactly how much reintroduced lynx might reduce deer control costs. Clearly, any reduction would help, and as an example of the potential impact of large carnivores, one study in America calculated that wolves reduced vehicle collisions by 24% and yielded economic benefits 63 times greater than the cost of verified livestock losses.

Reintroducing lynx also promises to help rekindle popular interest in Scottish nature, providing a totemic symbol of ecosystem restoration around which we can rally hopes for a greener future. There could be volunteering opportunities linked to monitoring and livestock protection, and there is potential for lynx-friendly products, from lamb to wool, which would allow farmers to charge a premium for their produce where those products are associated with toleration for and coexistence with lynx.

There would also be a boost to people’s wellbeing, born out of the wonder and awe we experience in the presence of the wildness which lynx embody. Again, it is difficult to precisely quantify such benefits, but we should not underestimate the socioeconomic impact of improving people’s wellbeing, or the value of hope. Indeed, making the transition to a Wellbeing Economy is a top priority for the Scottish Government. We also know that nature delivers real economic benefits, with these ‘ecosystem services’ linked to the health and diversity of natural ecosystems – both of which would be boosted by the lynx’s return.

Will lynx kill sheep?

Lynx can and do kill sheep, but the frequency with which lynx kill sheep varies around Europe, from as many as 8 sheep every 30 days killed by male lynx during the woodland grazing season in Norway, to an average of less than 2 sheep per lynx per year across the rest of Europe. In Norway, around 8,000 sheep per year were reportedly killed by lynx between 1995 and 2013, although more recently, claimed losses have been falling to less than half that number. Across the rest of Europe, losses range from zero to a few hundred sheep per year. Why then, does Norway experience such unusually high losses?

The first thing to note is that less than 10% of Norway’s reported losses are verified. Misuse of the compensation system is widely acknowledged, with independent study suggesting a significant discrepancy between how many sheep are actually killed by lynx and how much compensation is being paid. This discrepancy may be because mortality from other causes (e.g. lack of micro-minerals, accidents, or disease) is being wrongly attributed to lynx, and/or because predation by other carnivores is being wrongly attributed to lynx. There have also been convictions for fraud. So, exactly how many of the sheep reportedly killed by lynx in Norway are really killed by lynx is unclear.

However, while the total reported number may be exaggerated, there remains no doubt that lynx do kill large numbers of sheep in Norway, including multiple killing events (especially by male lynx) involving 2-5 sheep. One 1999 study suggested average Norwegian losses of 9.5 sheep per lynx per year. More recent EU figures suggested compensation is paid in Norway for an average of 16 sheep and goats per lynx per year. This level of conflict remains much higher than anywhere else. France is the next highest with less than 2 sheep and goats lost per lynx per year. Most countries suffer close to zero losses.

What explains this variation? Beyond the problems with unverified claims, it should be noted that most Norwegian flocks roam the forest unfenced and unguarded all summer. This is very different to keeping sheep in fields or on open moorlands, because the risk of predation by lynx is much lower further away from woodland habitats. Indeed, even in Norway, where sheep are kept confined in fields, sheep are ‘almost never killed’. This phenomenon is not thought to be due to fencing excluding lynx, since many of these fences are simple and rarely truly predator-proof. Instead, fencing appears to prevent sheep entering woodland habitat (i.e. lynx habitat) and so reduces the rate of random encounters between lynx and sheep which are understood to cause most lynx-sheep predation events (and be the reason why wider-ranging males typically kill more sheep).

Sheep in fields may also present an unappealing hunting prospect. Despite appearing to us like an easy meal, the lynx’s perception is likely to be quite different. Sheep in fields flock together when alarmed, discouraging predation by an ambush predator like the lynx. An open field also provides few stalking opportunities, and no opportunity to return repeatedly to an undisturbed carcass secreted away in the forest, as a lynx likes to do. All these factors help explain why predation of sheep confined within fields is rare compared to losses of sheep that range freely in woodlands, even without the presence of effective guardian animals like dogs, donkeys or llamas.

To illustrate this effect, a striking comparison may be made between Norway and Sweden. In Sweden, an average of just 0.1 sheep are killed per lynx per year, a rate one hundred times lower than those reported Norwegian depredation rates. Sweden also supports many more lynx than Norway, although it also hosts fewer sheep (around 300,000 versus more than 2 million), but a key difference is that Swedish sheep are kept behind fences.

Additionally, it is important to understand the influence of the availability of wild prey. Research in Norway has shown that, where roe deer occur at densities above 4 deer per km2, sheep predation rates are low and once roe deer densities reach 7 per km2, sheep predation is exceptionally rare. These densities are relatively modest by Scottish standards, where roe deer densities can reach up to 25 per km2, even before considering the availabilty of other deer species. Crucially, the abundance of deer in Scotland suggests that lynx would have plenty of access to their preferred wild prey.

So, there are risk factors which make lynx predation more likely, like allowing sheep to roam woodland lynx habitats unsupervised, but also proximity to woodlands and increasing sheep density. Notably, Scotland does support a lot of sheep, often in fields surrounded by woodland, and even though sheep densities across Highland Scotland are lower than elsewhere in the country, typically below 100 sheep per km2, they are still higher than they are across most of Europe. In Norway, there are usually less than 20 sheep per km2.

However, there are also factors which make lynx predation less likely, such as an abundance of wild prey (true across most of Scotland), and whether sheep are actively protected (not the case in Scotland) or at least confined within fields (often true in Scotland). When too many risk factors align, it can create hotspots of conflict, and in such circumstances, an increase in protection may be required.

In summary, if lynx are reintroduced to Scotland, some lynx would be likely to kill some sheep at some point, but exactly how many sheep might be predated is difficult to predict. There are limits to what can be inferred from comparisons with Europe, with the Scottish context unique in some ways, and ultimately, we will only know for sure after a trial. The question then becomes, how can any such predation best be managed fairly and responsibly?

What costs might lynx generate?

Some stakeholders have expressed concerns that lynx might reduce the profitability of roe deer stalking businesses, much as hen harriers can impact the driven grouse shooting industry. However, the vast majoroty of roe deer shot in Scotland each year are culled (rather than trophy-hunted by paying clients) and lynx predation of roe deer could help reduce the significant cost of these management efforts, or at least add to their efficacy. Of greater concern are the costs that might be incurred by sheep farmers should they suffer livestock losses, and this would generate costs for the public purse if a compensation system was adopted.

There is no standardised compensation policy for livestock predation across Europe. Some countries, like Albania and Hungary, pay no compensation, while some, like Norway, Sweden and France, pay out a lot (mostly for wolves). Scotland currently pays no compensation for livestock lost to any of its extant predators, although farmers are allowed to control corvids and foxes, and to shoot dogs that are worrying sheep. However, if lynx were reintroduced, some sort of compensation scheme would likely need to be adopted.

Compensation is not guaranteed to increase tolerance for predators (since even paying the full financial value of an animal still fails to account for the distress such losses can cause and the potential damage to breeding lines) but well-designed compensation schemes, with timely and adequate payments linked to efficient administrative processes are more likely to be successful. Compensation is also most effective when it is conditional on some measures of livestock protection being employed, otherwise it can perversely increase conflict by acting as a disincentive to responsible animal husbandry. Local stakeholders must also be consulted in the design of such programmes.

How compensation costs might add up in Scotland would depend on how the system was set up and how much sheep predation occurs. If we assume each predated sheep to be compensated to an average value of £100 and that Scotland could eventually support a population of 250 lynx, then in a relatively low-level conflict scenario, if each lynx killed an average of one or two sheep per year, 250-500 sheep might be killed every year, requiring up to £50,000 in annual compensation payments. In a medium-level conflict scenario, where each lynx killed an average of nine sheep per year, annual costs would rise to £225,000. And in a high-level conflict scenario, comparable to the reported conflict in Norway, if each lynx killed an average of 16 sheep per year, costs could rise to £400,000 per year (equivalent to £1600 per lynx).

There would also be additional costs linked to the administration of any such scheme, but these numbers serve as a useful starting point to compare with the potential financial benefits. As a further guide, from 2005-2012, across Europe, the average cost in compensation payments per year was 700 Euros per lynx, although there was a lot of variation among and within countries. There is however a risk of focusing too heavily on compensation payments, rather than on funding prevention measures, since the latter may be more effective, both at reducing conflict and for building tolerance among affected stakeholders.

Extensive investment in prevention measures (like improved fencing) could generate higher costs than compensation payments, but there are well established international precedents for such costs being at least partly funded by conservation charities. Given that public funds are always stretched, it may also be more cost-effective to focus on implementing preventative measures within the 5 weeks following any attack, when the risk of another attack is higher. Such temporary proactive measures (like sirens and flashing lights) are usually simpler and cheaper than permanent deterrents, and adopting measures on a temporary basis avoids the risk of carnivores becoming conditioned to deterrents.

Lastly, it should be noted that sheep attacks are likely to give rise to indirect costs to producers as well. Farmers who experience attacks often spend more on labour for maintaining fences, searching for lost animals, and bringing animals in for the night, and so a conservation payment scheme, targeting farmers who are most affected, might be appropriate to offset these costs and encourage coexistence. Furthermore, research suggests that intangible costs – such as psychological stresses – are also more likely to influence attitudes more than tangible economic costs, and addressing these costs is less straightforward.

Is coexistence possible?

Most countries around the world live with at least one species of large predator and many coexist with predators that pose far greater challenges than lynx. Despite the exceptionally high level of reported conflict between sheep farmers, lynx and other large carnivores in Norway, the fact is that the Norwegian sheep industry is growing. Furthermore, even in Norway, most people like living alongside lynx, with a series of polls commissioned by the Norwegian Government consistently showing that most people like lynx while, according to the most recent data, only 5% of people strongly dislike them. Given this overwhelming support, and the concurrent growth of Norway’s sheep industry, it is apparent that coexistence with predators is possible. 

This is not to underplay the real challenges of coexistence. It is merely to point out that dealing with these challenges represents the international norm. 50% of all sheep in continental Europe live close to an area where at least one species of large carnivore occurs, and yet overall losses to large carnivores add up to the equivalent of 0.05% of the over-wintering sheep population in these countries.

Nor do these predators only occur in depopulated landscapes and pristine ‘wildernesses’, in circumstances remote from our own. Most European lynx populations occur partly outside protected areas in multi-use landscapes, alongside human population densities of 22-74 per km2, higher than those found across Highland Scotland (where the average is closer to 8-12 people per km2). So, how might we achieve some level of coexistence with a native predator like the lynx within our own borders?

In Norway, the main policy instrument for sustaining both viable carnivore populations and a sustainable grazing industry is zonation, where conservation of large carnivores is prioritised within carnivore management zones (CMZs), separating these zones from other areas prioritized for grazing livestock. Livestock still occur inside these CMZs, albeit at lower densities than outside, and the sheep found inside CMZs are confined within fenced enclosures (where they suffer relatively few losses).

Similar CMZs could theoretically be established in Scotland, but importantly, although the Norwegian example demonstrates how coexistence can be managed with no overall economic impact, the economic and social impact of even a few carnivores can still have serious ramifications for affected communities and individual farmers when risk factors align to create conflict hotspots. Accordingly, a just system of compensation and conservation payments would be needed to accompany any reintroduction, including support for a suite of preventative measures. In extremis, where all other options have been explored, it may also be necessary to include provision for the legal removal of identified problem animals.

In the end, the question is, how should the potential costs and benefits of a lynx reintroduction be weighed? The diverse ecological and socioeconomic benefits may outweigh the costs, but it is also true that the costs will be disproportionately borne by a small number of people. Accordingly, it is only right that appropriate and sufficient measures are put in place to offset these costs as far as possible. However, we should also ask whether any of these costs are sufficient to constitute an insurmountable barrier to reintroducing this missing native predator, and if so, what makes Scotland different from all the other countries that manage to coexist with lynx, including Norway! Compromise is needed, but with the right measures in place, we certainly could coexist with reintroduced lynx, if we choose to do so.