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Reintroduction of Lynx

Image showing the view towards the Cairngorms from the Queen's View in Tarland,

There is increasing interest in re-wilding some of our rural areas and in some cases this means the reintroduction of native species, for example, the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) that is currently extinct in the UK.

Lynx are solitary, territorial carnivores of about 20 kg weight. Home range sizes vary from 100-2800 km2 and are largest at high latitudes and smallest where high densities of prey and productive habitats occur. Typical densities are in the range of 0.5-1.5 lynx per 100 km2. Juvenile lynx can disperse up to 428 km from their natal areas at 9-11 months of age but  dispersal is limited by natural and anthropogenic barriers including major roads. A population of lynx should have at least 250 individuals to be viable. Within Britain, a sufficient area of contiguous woodland habitat to support this number of animals only occurs in the Scottish Highlands, although the suitability of these woodlands in terms of understory vegetation and structure still requires investigation.

The main factors limiting population growth are illegal killing, traffic accidents and legal harvesting. Most reintroduced populations have stagnated and remain small. They occur partly outside protected areas in multi-use landscapes dominated by woodlands and with relatively low human population densities. Lynx are considered to be roe deer specialist. Lynx are also likely to prey on red, fallow and sika deer but to a lesser extent than on Roe.  Alternative prey of reintroduced lynx in Britain could include rabbits, brown and mountain hares, woodland grouse, wildcat, red squirrel, red fox and pine marten as well as domestic pets, sheep, goats and reared game birds. However, the available evidence suggests that lynx do not actively select these other species, but kill them when preferred prey is scarce. Thus the impact of lynx on other wildlife and livestock will depend on their relative abundances compared to preferred prey species.  In Europe, illegal killing is considered to be the primary threat to lynx, accounting for 30-50% of all mortality. Conflict with hunters over the perceived threat posed to roe deer by lynx is believed to contribute to this. By comparison, conflict over sheep predation is low except in Norway and to a lesser extent the Alps and Jura, where husbandry practices predispose livestock to high predation rates. Vehicle-collisions are another significant cause of lynx mortality and limit recolonisation in the fragmented habitats of central Europe. Collision risks would probably also be high for lynx in large parts of Britain with its extensive road network. Human and road densities in the Scottish Highlands are comparable to those in areas where lynx currently occur.

Lynx are protected under the EU Habitats Directive but lawful population control is carried out in some non-EU countries or under derogation. Compensation schemes are widely implemented but are costly and can be controversial. The reintroduction of lynx to any part of Britain would require a non-native species licence from the relevant statutory authority. A license application requires a risk assessment of the biological, animal welfare and socio-economic impacts, as well as evidence of thorough public consultation and plans for post-release monitoring and communication. Carnivore reintroductions are extremely lengthy, costly and complex processes and should only be undertaken where there is a high probability of success. The human dimensions are likely to be as important for success as the ecological aspects. However even well planned reintroductions carry no guarantee of success and therefore a viable exit strategy and appropriate budget must be in place from the outset. It is clear that further work on habitat quality, prey availability and social acceptability are required to inform any assessments of reintroduction of lynx to Britain. In particular, positive public and stakeholder attitudes in areas surrounding reintroduction sites are vital. The financial, practical management, ethical and welfare implications of reintroducing lynx need to be carefully considered, particularly where areas of suitable habitat are considered too small to support contiguous viable populations.

Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.