Guest blog – Lynx and young people by Chris Baker

Chris began teaching science in London ten years ago and has since worked at British international schools in Vietnam and China. He is currently Head of Science at the British School of Bucharest.  He has written two previous guest blogs here; Natural History GCSE – still a bad idea, 8 November 2018; Natural History in the National Curriculum, 13 October 2017.

On the 4th of December last year, Michael Gove, Defra’s Secretary of State, refused an application by the Lynx UK Trust to reintroduce six Eurasian lynx to Kielder forest in Northumberland [1]. Gove stated that the application did not meet the necessary standards set out in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines and additionally did not comprehensively provide the necessary information required for Defra to be confident in the success of the proposal. The Lynx UK Trust said they remain committed despite this setback and I hope a second application will be successful [2].

The ecological benefits of a lynx reintroduction, as a key stone species, are there for all to read. So too is information on the extent to which a reintroduction is likely to affect sheep farmers and any danger to the public. As an educator, the main reason I would like to see lynx reintroduced is for the learning and wellbeing opportunities it would give to school pupils in the United Kingdom.

I teach in a British School Overseas (BSO) in Romania. Romania is home to some of the largest populations of lynx, wolves and brown bears in Europe. Pupils at our school regularly go out on biology and geography field trips and Duke of Edinburgh hikes in the mountains where these apex predators live, but they rarely, if ever, see any of these animals. I have one pupil in Year 13 who saw a pair of wolves whilst cycling with her sister a few years ago. This pupil is Romanian and when asked by an English classmate if she was scared said “No. Why would I be? They ran away”. The Deputy Head once saw a lynx late at night whilst talking to the owner of the cabin where pupils were staying; the first time the owner had ever seen one himself. I have heard one or two tall tales, mainly from boys, about seeing bears disappearing into bushes during DofE hikes but I think these are unlikely to be true given a guide walks out ahead (as well as behind) to clear the way, coupled with the noise made by a large group of teenagers carrying tin cans. Still, not impossible and certainly exciting for young people to think about.

Lynx tracks. Photo: Thomas Westphal, Berlin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bears and wolves are one thing. Lynx are quite another. There are no incidences of a wild Eurasian lynx attacking a human in recorded history and the probability of ever seeing one is vanishingly small. One might see tracks in the snow or some scat, if lucky. But to a young person (and old alike) this is often enough to have an impact. Even just knowing that lynx are out there, sharing habitat with you is invigorating and, I would argue, potentially hugely inspiring. Learning about lynx adaptations, litter size, sexual dimorphism and where the species fits into a food web would be enjoyable for those already enthusiastic about nature as well as those usually less keen. A biology teacher stands a much better chance of reaching a grumpy fourteen year old who hates school out in the field spotting red squirrels alongside looking for lynx scratch marks.

An initial hook is often needed to develop an interest in a particular area, whether this interest is in fitness, coin collecting or natural history. For millions of young people across the U.K. the lynx could be this hook. I am not suggesting that every pupil who visits Kielder post-reintroduction will become an avid naturalist (I am optimistically assuming it will happen eventually), but it will inspire some to pay closer attention to the natural world. With the U.K. being one of the most nature-depleted countries on Earth and with children aged 8-15 spending an average of just sixteen minutes per day in parks, countryside, seaside, beach or coastal locations, a lynx reintroduction might be more valuable, if not necessary, than ever [3].

References:

  1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lynx-reintroduction-in-kielder-forest
  2. http://www.lynxuk.org/
  3. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/childrensengagementwiththeoutdoorsandsportsactivitiesuk/2014to2015
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25 Replies to “Guest blog – Lynx and young people by Chris Baker”

  1. I have spent many days alone, but usually moving, in Lynx territory in Europe.
    I'm not surprised I didn't see one either, because to do so I believe I would need to be stationary an hidden for long periods, not my forte.
    What wild mammals I have seen were so quick to realise my presence and make off before I could bring a camera (already set up an good to go) to bear on their retreating bodies. I would like to have had more 'record shots' to back up all my claims of sightings.
    It is possible that the proposal did not provide meet the necessary standards to meet the IUCN guidelines, but far more likely there is no political will for an introduction anywhere in the UK.
    The reluctance by many to accept vegetarian beavers, which clearly benefit biodiversity, and should be especially welcomed by anglers, is a good illustration. The claim that beavers can wreck flood banks, themselves a major cause of floods, and should be considered for removal for that reason, is hardly adequate.

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  2. Cracking points! There was criticism of the claims made about lynx bringing in tourism bucks on the basis that very limited likelihood of seeing it, however, there's a member of the Scottish fauna that tends to disprove that - Nessie. Just the idea a lynx is there and the chance of seeing some signs of it would be bloody magic. A few years ago we took a similar line when we suggested to a secondary school their pupils could do a project to see whether it would be possible for a local nature reserve to have beavers, what would be the problems, benefits, resolutions and would the local community want them? Quite appropriate given that the beaver is spreading naturally through Scotland, however, the local ecologist missed the point that this was a way to involve students and that the water vole was a more appropriate subject blah, blah, blah. A few short years later and all of a sudden there are beaver within sight of the Wallace Monument, a lot less than twenty miles away from Falkirk. It's possible that like the Tay beavers there's a secret population of lynx out there, a friend swears she saw one. I do feel persistence with getting them back will pay off, those who opposed the lynx trial made themselves look ridiculous. Great post, thanks.

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  3. I visit the trail area [in Cumbria] often looking for Birds of Prey. There are only 3 farms all with sheep. The area was planted with mainly Sitka Spruce and a few Lodge Pole with now some amazing clear felled areas and wind blown trees. The research found Roe Deer moving into the grasslands from 2am - 4 am in winter with dots everywhere and then moving back into the Sitka.

    The area is used by the military both in the air [Europe's main target area] with the radar keeping any wind farm proposals away and on the ground. [Military Police present] and that could be the main reason the reintroduction did not happen. I am sure if Lynx had been brought back we would have Golden Eagle back here nesting with the old pair lost in 2002 as the carrion would have been a great incentive.

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    1. I would suggest that the area is suitable for the reintroduction of pine marten. The few signs of them locally is probably due to males seeking females, and travelling large distances to find them. A much easier task, Surely, and we could have a study after a few years to see if this could allow the replacement of greys with red squirrels. Now there wouldbe a thing.

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      1. Alex I've had three personal communications with people who've noticed increased numbers of red squirrels when marten come back. They are now in my area so will see what happens!

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        1. Of course, I cannot be certain, but I would suspect that those which have been seen on camera traps would be males, wandering far, just as the Welsh released male was found deep into England as road kill.
          Until young are seen or a female detected by hair on bait area I think it safest to assume they are not yet across the border from D&G.

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  4. Yes, Chris: the countryside is crying out for that greater sense of mystery which kids’ minds and curiosity can thrive on.
    The invisibility of the lynx connects the natural to the supernatural and thereby can drive children’s imaginations.
    We need those lynx to make more links in a depleted mindscape.

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  5. I have been visiting the Czech Republic since 1967, most of this time spent exploring the huge forested regions of Northern Moravia, which include both the Jeseniky and Beskydy mountains both regional strongholds of the Lynx, and raptors of many species. While in Southern Bohemia I was able to regularly explore the Odra River Basin, a Protected Landscape Area, a Ramsar wetland of international importance recognised by the ICPB as one of Europe's most significant habitats. The European Lynx is found in good numbers here and is known to be extending its range. There are now estimated to be between 3000-4000 Lynx throughout the Republic, this includes many animals living close to rural villages together with a number of larger towns .

    Several years ago while visiting Southern Bohemia I was informed by a Lynx expert that in his experience the Lynx has never posed any threat to the public. Indeed the citizens of this beautiful country, and visitors alike, are encouraged to use the forest for their enjoyment and leisure activities both in the winter and summer; sadly very few people ever see a Lynx in their lifetime. From my own experience in both the Czech Republic and in Poland I have found the Lynx to be an extremely secretive animal, avoiding all contact with the public, indeed you are more likely to see a bear. The only contact I have ever had with the Lynx was when I discovered a fresh paw print when visiting the forest surrounding the famous Trebonsko fish ponds.

    Michael Gove has been misinformed about any potential or real danger the public may face from any Lynx released into the wild in areas like the Kielder Forest. The biggest danger will be faced by any Lynx released, likely to be shot by ill informed people and this would be a great shame.

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    1. "There are now estimated to be between 3000-4000 Lynx throughout the Republic"

      I don't think so... Perhaps a zero or two added by mistake?

      In The Lynx and Us by David Hetherington (which I thoroughly recommend) he provides a table with population estimates for all the European lynx populations. He lists the Bohemian-Bavarian population (extending between the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria) at around fifty animals.

      The entire Carpathian range, which just touches the Czech Republic at its western extremity but mainly encompasses Slovakia, southern Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania (which has the largest single population) is estimated to support only 2300-2400 lynx.

      Sorry to be pedantic, but with species which are the subject of such controversy it seems important to get the numbers roughly right, even if they are only estimates.

      It is also interesting to note Dr Hetherington's own estimates for how many lynx the UK could support, topping out at ±50 for a population in the south of Scotland and North of England and ±400 for a separate population (predicted to remain isolated from any more southerly population by the urban sprawl and road density between Edinburgh and Glasgow) in the North of Scotland.

      Since the minimum population for long term viability is often suggested to be ±200 individuals for Eurasian lynx, this suggests that a Highland release would be more likely to succeed, unless the two populations were managed as a meta population (much like many large carnivores in South Africa).

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  6. I saw one of the farmer's rags gloating, and there was no other word except "gloating" about kicking the hippies and greenies in the face and denying the application for lynx. This is how you get illegal releases, btw. I have no confidence that the self-appointed "stewards of the countryside" won't just poison and shoot any animals even they do get an official seal of approval, their entitlement runs strong in their veins. Farmers are as bad as grouse shooters in their abusing and failing to understand the lands they work on.

    I saw another article on how they want to use Brexit as an excuse to get rid of all environmental and land access legislation too. Tinpot little hitlers, the lot of them.

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    1. Exactly, the conservation movement needs to stop going to the farming sector cap in hand. It shouldn't be afraid to point out about a third of our food gets wasted which means there's actually no need for a lot of farming if we just cut food waste. Only the truth, but I suspect many farmers wouldn't be happy about it. I also wish that when talking about farmers and conservation the NGOs were honest about the real number of farmers who bother their arse over it rather than try ingratiate themselves by pretending it's the standard attitude, it ain't. In Mark Cockers book 'Our Place' he revealed that a very high proportion of hedges have been removed (a third I think) because farmers thought they were scruffy. Then of course there was the farmer recently convicted of injecting his cows with diesel to get fake tb positive results for compensation, he said he picked up the practice from other farmers. The really good farmers are sparse.

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      1. Indeed, I live in rural Wales where of course most farmers are livestock farmers. I think I heard from a recent farming conference that because sheep are grass feeders they are good for the environment!! Apart from being total biodiversity destroyers of our uplands---- look at the Lakes or much of Wales, around here nearly all the low ground pastures, hundreds if not thousands of acres have been and are regularly reseeded, no real wildlife value at all! Yet the few natural grasslands are able to support more sheep for longer and have better wildlife value too. What were hedges are often thin lines of mature hawthorn "lollipops" with a fence under them to make them stock proof and their sides are still pointlessly flailed so removing most of the berries. Many if not most farmers are utterly clueless or uncaring of our environment. That's what makes the few very good ones stand out so much!

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        1. Welsh sheep farmers seem to be particularly bad for this. When the Vincent Wildlife Trust did the translocation of pine marten to Wales they recorded videos of what the community at the receiving end thought of it. Various farmers were interviewed and their comments were jaw dropping awful. Clearly if something had nothing to do with sheep it was bad, an unnecessary complications in the landscape. I don't think sheep farming is any better for people than it is for the hills. How much of the supposed attachment to the way of life is actually due to its proponents knowing sod all else? As with Fieldsports you're immersed in it to the exclusion of so much else that could be so much better for you. Has sheep farming not been an asset but instead harmful to us on a landscape, cultural and individual level?

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  7. I've never understood what it is about predators and the attitudes of we the British. Any one would think that the lynx is going to dramatically change the whole world we are familiar with if and hopefully when released. Frankly this is tosh, much as most if not all the arguments about beavers, WT eagles in the Isle of Wight or any other reintroduction. Lynx (and for that matter wolf) have recolonised naturally much of Europe and I haven't read about children, pets or folk who love the real wild outdoors being killed, eaten or attacked and nor will I. There is absolutely no reason for us not to bring back lynx to the UK, there are lots of advantages a few negatives. they won't be mass killers of sheep or other livestock they hunt almost exclusively in woodland ( sheep lost in Norway are grazed in woodland) for the very occasional incident we could have a compensation scheme any way. For me I'd love it back even if I never saw one, I'd have Brown Bear back too. We need some wonder, real wonder and awe back in British wildlife not the tamed countryside of the farming, shooting and fishing lobbies

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    1. It is equal parts laziness in that we don't want to go to the effort of changing how we do things now; prissiness about wanting everything to look neat an nice; and also arrogance in that we want to believe we are a special case (c.f. Brexit), with just a sprinkling of malice about kicking the hippies over the top.

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  8. My conclusion on some of these anti-farmer comments is that no wonder with conservationists such as these lots of farmers will thumb there nose at conservation and indeed the many that are good conservationists will be tempted to think why do we bother while we have critics who know nothing about farming and it's problems.
    At least three people in these comments critical of farmers have absolutely no knowledge of farming but as usual think they know it all.
    Strange thing is farmers do not seem to go on conservation blogs and rubbish conservationists.

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    1. Dennis I've lived and worked on a farm, who is making lazy judgements now? FYI the experience only reinforced my suspicions. It seems that farmers can be as arrogant and reactionary as they want, but the moment they are criticised for it to they are being victimised. You've just backed up what the rest of us have been saying Dennis, many farmers think they are special, above criticism and the rest of us should just shut up and keep coughing up their public subsidy, what do you think the NFU says about the farming community? I've also had dealings with the 'poor' crofters of Lewis. Not a repressed minority still suffering from historical injustices (the clearances) that actually most of our ancestors endured in one form or another, but the most grasping people I ever met with an exasperating sense of entitlement who were in fact a pampered, privileged 'elite'. Even the people in Stornoway said 'the crofters get everything'. Have I committed blasphemy now? If farmers aren't well liked maybe they can start taking responsibility for that as mainly their own fault. I also remember you tried to claim that the very dodgy Predation Action Group was diminishing and if ignored would just disappear. Well they haven't, but illegal persecution of otters seems to be increasing as are references to them needing to be 'controlled'. You seem to have a very serious blind spot Dennis you need to watch that.

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      1. Les, why put something about me with no truth at all.
        Have never said anything at all about predation action group,in fact never even heard of them.
        Prove what you say or you really should not comment on anyone's blog.

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    2. Dennis what did I say that was wrong? Most of the sheep pastures on lower ground here are reseeded, two already reseeded fields were re-drilled in September and such fields have NO wildlife value. Some of those same fields have stock fences and lollipop trees mainly hawthorn and they were all flailed in November and lost most of their berries. These reseeded fields have had their sheep moved once a week (and this was needed) and now they have all been taken off. Yet the near natural grass field adjacent to us has had a similar density of sheep for the last 3 months and there is still plenty of grass. So low input field wins. Farming in the future needs to try to be as low input ( at least of fossil fuels and derivatives as possible) and all this for sheep of which we have too many!

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    1. A lynx in a hen run can no doubt do significant damage but that does not mean that the reintroduction of lynx would result in serious losses to the poultry industry. Do you believe that poultry rearing is seriously compromised in Romania by the presence of a population of lynx?

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  9. Les,just to correct that comment about myself
    commenting about predation action group.
    It just did not happen and I have not heard of that group or ever repeat ever commented about them.
    My conclusion therefore is that if you make scurrilous wrong comments like that then probably everything you write is not worth anything.

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