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 . 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 .
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 .