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Welcome to the first issue of the Lynx UK Trust e-Newsletter

We thought this would be a good way of keeping people up to date with what's going on with the project in the lead up to an application to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage for a trial licence to reintroduce Lynx to the Kielder Forest area. 

It is extremely important to the Trust that the project works with and for the local community. Of course the Trust and its volunteers are working to reintroduce lynx, but we are trying to present as balanced and factual a position as possible so people can make up their own minds. You'll see below, little of this could be possible without people giving up their free time to help. If you're convinced and would like to get involved, or think there is something we can do better, or have feedback on the newsletter itself, then please do look at the ways you can get involved with the project on the website, here.

January and February saw a big push in the door to door consultation work and we now have over a hundred completed questionnaires collating local opinion on the project. A concerted effort on a snowy mid-January weekend with Trust members from as far afield as London and the Netherlands, alongside local volunteers, managed to get to many of the more outlying farms and hamlets within the identified primary consultation zone. Although not quite everybody had heard of the project, this door knocking work gives a good representation of the community and a real flavour of the range of opinions. It was great to hear enthusiastic support and equally important to sit down and have detailed conversations with those who have concerns. Similarly to earlier work, we found a large proportion of people either expressed a neutral position through to strong support (adding names to our growing list of willing future volunteers!). 

The most recent public meeting held at the start of February at the south end of the consultation zone at Tarset got a really good turn out, including the local wildlife police officer. There was good representation from the farming community with very clear questions asked, particularly around risk to livestock. We are keen to recruit for the next stage with this stakeholder group and invited all present to let us know if they might be interested in representing views in the forthcoming farming focus group discussions.

There have been a number of media reports over recent weeks claiming 90% local support for the project. Whilst it's great to have continued press interest sometimes stats are misquoted, a problem that is often compounded when news reports are repeated on other media platforms - which is what we think has occurred on this occasion. The 90% support statistic relates solely to the national survey work carried out in 2015, and not to our ongoing local consultation work, which will be analysed and written up in due course. We are collecting a range of data, including questionnaires, group meetings and Q methods (an approach increasingly used to explore individual perspectives on complex conservation issues). This is time-consuming and rigorous work.

Deborah Brady, Local Project Officer and Ian Convery, Public Consultation and Forestry Specialist
Photo Credit: Lynx in the Harz Mountains, Chris Eves, 2016
Tracking Roe Deer in Kielder Forest
In August 2016, the Lynx UK Trust commissioned a team, including volunteers from the University of Cumbria, to carry out Roe Deer surveys within Kielder Forest. The purpose of the survey was to gather primary data on the location of potential Roe Deer populations within Kielder Forest.

Mic Mayhew, lecturer in Zoology at the University of Cumbria, did a great job of leading the surveys over five (long!) consecutive nights. Each evening our team would leave Carlisle at 9pm, which would allow us to arrive at Kielder Forest just before night fall.

Ascending the forestry tracks brings visitors to Kielder into an expansive tract of wilderness and it is remarkable how quickly the area can begin to feel very remote, even just a few kilometres from the road.

Surveys were carried out from a car as a team of three, sharing driving, navigation and note taking, as well as the all-important operation of the thermal imaging equipment. Surveying from different vantage points such as in the boot, window or roof of our 4x4 car provided varying degrees of success. Some nights we were fortunate enough to have an extra team member along who could provide moral in the form of tea and biscuits, but other nights we were less fortunate.

Surveying on the first night was somewhat hampered by heavy rain as potential Roe Deer remained out of sight for most of the evening. The remainder of the nights stayed relatively dry and we were rewarded with a lot more success spotting Roe Deer. We were also lucky enough to spot Tawny Owls, Badgers, and a possible Pine Marten sighting.

The survey data will be used to provide a greater depth of understanding on potential release sites within Kielder which may provide suitable prey for Lynx. This will feed into the site selection process and help to bring the chances of re-introduction one step closer.

Graham McGrath, volunteer
An Interview with Paul O'Donoghue, Chief Scientific Adviser
Matthew Almond began volunteering with the Lynx Trust in 2016, when he helped with surveying in the Harz Mountains (see another participant's report below). Earlier this month he interviewed Paul O'Donoghue, to find out a bit more about his background, and the origins of the lynx reintroduction project.

Can you tell us anything about your past and what made you interested in taking on this role?

Well, I’m a wildlife biologist and have worked in conservation for all of my working life - over 20 years. If I think back, I’ve always been interested in wildlife. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I’m obsessed by it and have been since I was very young, as early as 4.

I’ve pursued this obsession throughout my life - I did a degree in biology at Oxford and followed that up with a PhD in conservation which looked at ways to ensure the genetic health of endangered species. I travelled quite widely for this and worked with animals including Black Rhino and Rocky Mountain Sheep.

What did you do after that?

I became a lecturer in conservation and combined this with a pursuing my research interests in the same field. I have lectured in South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius and done research in various countries all over the world. I also work much closer to home with the Wildcat Haven in Scotland.

What interests me the most is applying academic theory to practical conservation issues. Good genetic management of endangered species has to be underpinned by science.

What would you say are the secrets to a successful conservation project?

A conservation project will be successful if the interests of local people are aligned with the interests of the animal. If there is local support for the project then it generally works.

When working on a project, it’s very important to be open and honest with people, and to be open-minded to what people are telling you. You need to not be too focused on the big picture but to look at the local issues and to be as open-minded to people’s concerns as possible. Be aware of local conflicts – ultimately it is people that decide whether animals survive in a certain area.

Moving on to lynx – what was it that attracted you to this animal and why did you think re-introduction could be a success in the UK?

Forests in England have a huge problem with damage done by deer. There are far too many, which causes big problems the environment as a whole.

The natural predators in the UK are wolf, bear and lynx. People have killed every single one of these animals and have entirely eradicated them from the countryside – lynx were eradicated simply to provide fur for the fur trade.

This means that there is no top band of predator to regulate the food chain which has caused an explosion in the deer population and an overall lack of bio-diversity.

Why do you think we should bring lynx back to the countryside?

There’s a strong ecological reason, as I have described above. Also I believe that lynx will be a major tourism draw to areas of the country that really need it.

Most of all, I strongly believe that we have a moral obligation to re-introduce these animals. We killed every last lynx in this country and it’s our duty to bring them back.

How do you envisage that a lynx reintroduction could work in the UK?

The plan is to start with a small number of lynx – between 6-10 of mixed sex. They would initially be released into what we call a “soft-release enclosure” which is a 1 acre area where they would have no human contact but would have the chance to feed on the local prey. After 4-5 weeks, we would open the door and allow them access to the larger site.

We hope that our first site will be the Kielder Forest in Northumberland. We chose this, among other reasons because it’s the biggest single forest block in Britain, about 650 square km. It has a low population density of humans and a high density of deer so it’s ideal for lynx.

We plan to intensively monitor the lynx that would be released – they would wear GPS collars and their kills will be monitored. If the project goes ahead, they will be among the most studied animals in history. Lynx populations increase very slowly – a female will have 2-3 cubs every 5 years and these suffer from a 50% mortality rate. This means that the breeding cycle for lynx is around 5 years. We don’t expect that there will be any breeding for the first 18 months as the lynx settle into their new home so we will have plenty of chance to monitor them before there is any increase in the population.

Anything else to add?

We’re very keen for everyone to have their say on the lynx project in Kielder, so please do get in touch with us with your thoughts and (constructive) criticism!

Photo Credit: Gathering at the Rabensklippe, Chris Eves, 2016

Fieldwork in Bad Harzburg

Bad Harzburg, a town in the Harz Mountains in north Germany, is known for two things: an historic thermal spa and the presence of lynx. Although people have visited the town for the spa for at least 100 years, lynx are a more recent attraction. They were reintroduced in the region in 1999 and have since flourished both in the wild and in spacious viewing enclosures in the forest.

In October this year, the Lynx UK Trust commissioned a volunteer team to carry out surveys of tourists in the mountains near Bad Harzburg. The purpose of the surveys was to determine the effect of lynx on tourism in the area and how much the presence of lynx influenced people’s decision to visit.

We were welcomed by Lili Middelhoff from the Harz Mountains National Park (Nationalparkverwaltung Harz). Lili gave us a tour of the park and explained the work that had been done to make the reintroduction of lynx a success. She also showed us the weekly lynx feeding session in the viewing enclosure (pictured), an event which attracted a large crowd of curious hikers, and how to change the camera traps that are used to monitor the lynxes’ behaviour in the area.

When we had finished carrying out surveys, we made the most of the significant amount of lynx memorabilia in the town—buying lynx soft toys, lynx-branded schnapps and lynx key rings to take back home to the UK. We also took a trip up the mountains in a cable car, sampled some of the region’s varied wild mushrooms and made a bashful visit to the historic spa (strictly no trunks allowed!).

In all, we interviewed 357 people and collected some important evidence that will be used to assess the potential impact of lynx on local jobs and businesses in the Kielder area. The full report of the findings will be published later this month.

Adam Dalton, volunteer

Copyright © 2017 Lynx UK Trust CIC, All rights reserved.

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