AN official application to bring lynx back to Scotland is set to be submitted next month and could see the big cats roam Britain for the first time in 1,300 years.
The Lynx UK Trust has completed a public consultation on plans to reintroduce Eurasian lynx – complete with GPS tracking collars – to the British countryside.
Now they will apply to Scottish Natural Heritage for a licence to release up to six lynx in Aberdeenshire.
Meanwhile, applications will also be lodged with Natural England to release the big cats in Norfolk, Cumbria and Northumberland.
A source close to the project said it was expected to be “next month” when the formal application process is started.
The programme would last three to five years and scientists, who insist the creatures pose no threat to humans, would track their movements.
The Eurasian lynx was a native of the British Isles but became extinct in the UK 1,300 years ago.
It is argued the creatures would help control deer population while having a ‘lynx effect’ on tourists.
However farmers have raised concerns about the plan with the National Farmers’ Union Scotland (NFU Scotland) having stated they are “concerned” about the proposals.
Recent costly reintroduction schemes in Spain and Portugal have been successful in taking the iberian lynx, which is smaller than its British cousin, back from the brink of extinction.
A spokeswoman for the trust said the big cats are “elusive” creatures whose hunting is focused on deer species and small prey such as rabbits.
She said: “This solitary and secretive nature means that they present no threat to humans and it is exceptionally rare for them to predate on agricultural animals.
“Their presence will return a vital natural function to our ecology helping control numbers of deer and a variety of agricultural pest species whilst protecting forestry from deer damage caused by overpopulation.”
Speaking previously about the consultation, Dr O’Donoghue from the Lynx UK Trust said: “We’re delighted by the overwhelmingly positive response.”
Speaking about the reintroduction plan he added: “It will be done in a very controlled, scientific way and we would be sure that everyone’s concerns and voices would be taken into account.”
NFU Scotland’s Deputy Director of Policy, Andrew Bauer said: “Farmers are quite right to question why and how lynx, absent from Scotland since medieval times, should be reintroduced.”
He continued: “In some parts of Europe the impact of lynx is moderate – very distressing and damaging for those who lose lambs but not a widespread problem.
“There are other parts of Europe, most notably Norway, where the impact is far greater – with official reports concluding that thousands of lambs are being predated each year in Norway alone.”
He added: “As a member of the National Species Reintroduction Forum, NFU Scotland would be involved in the scrutiny of any application and would feed in the many views and concerns likely to be voiced by our membership.
“Should it be clear that the risk to farming is unacceptable, NFU Scotland would act accordingly.”
Meanwhile a spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association suggested species already in Scotland and facing decline should be the priority.
He said: “One in three of the UK’s species have halved in number in only 50 years. One in ten are at risk of extinction and 31 per cent have declined seriously.
“If the reintroduction of lynx is going to make a substantive contribution to redressing this, then it merits closer attention.
“If not, we need to get on with the pressing priority of trying to look after the fragile species we already have and ensuring they are not lost forever.”