Their reluctance to stray far from cover means that lynx are most unlikely to make a nuisance of themselves on grouse moors. There are, however, concerns about the effect that lynx could have on threatened populations of the forest-dwelling capercaillie. It is true that in boreal landscapes where deer densities are very low and where woodland grouse are abundant lynx supplement their diet with capercaillie. However, in western and central Europe, where deer are much more abundant, capercaillie is a very rare feature of lynx diet. In an intensive study in the Swiss Jura Mountains, the remains of 617 prey animals were recovered, but only one capercaillie was recorded in 10 years. Interestingly, 37 foxes fell prey in the study and as a nest predator they are much more likely to have had a negative impact on the local capercaillie population than the lynx. This fox-killing behaviour is widely reported from around Europe and could actually serve to benefit ground-nesting birds. And who knows what it might mean for wildcats, with which foxes have considerable dietary overlap, or indeed lambs?
Attacks by lynx on sheep, particularly lambs, are known from across Europe and it seems inevitable that lynx would kill sheep here in Scotland.
It is important however to put this in perspective. Levels of lynx depredation on sheep in the Carpathians, where shepherding is intensive, are so low as to be virtually non-existent. The opposite end of the scale is the rather unique situation encountered in Norway where no protective measures are taken, but where 2.5 million sheep are grazed each summer in woodland, i.e. prime lynx ambush habitat. With roe deer densities low in much of Norway, hundreds, if not thousands, of sheep are thought to be killed each year. Despite their relative scarcity however, the most common lynx prey species is still the roe deer. Furthermore, where deer densities reach 4 or more per square kilometre, a very modest figure by Scottish standards, predation on sheep is rare. Unlike Norway, the vast majority of woodland in Scotland contains no sheep and the vast majority of sheep are grazed in open habitats. A far more likely scenario for Scotland is the one that occurs in France and Switzerland where intensive shepherding is similarly absent, but where sheep are grazed in open pasture. Here, only a small number of lynx within the population kill sheep and only at very specific locations.