REINTRODUCING wild predators such as lynx or wolves will not happen for a long time if ever, says the former head of the body protecting Scotland’s countryside.

Ian Jardine is leaving his post as chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), after he was seconded to advise the Scottish Government on environmental policy during the Brexit negotiations.

In a wide ranging interview with The Herald, he talked of the controversial debate over “rewilding” Scotland.

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Some conservationists want the lynx reintroduced, and eventually the wolf, to “rewild” the landscape. The Lynx UK Trust has submitted an application to SNH’s southern counterparts Natural England  for a trial reintroduction of six Eurasian lynx into the Kielder Forest in Northumberland.  It is being opposed by the likes of local sheep farmers.

The lynx is secretive and can grow to five feet in length, feeding almost exclusively by ambushing deer – but is not known to attack people.  It is thought that the lynx became extinct here in medieval times, being hunted for its fur and losing habitat to farming. But is still found in 46 countries in Europe, northern Asia and the Middle East.

The Lynx UK Trust some years ago identified an area in Aberdeenshire as a potential reintroduction location. But there was always been considerable opposition from farmers and others.

Mr Jardine said if an application was submitted to SNH to reintroduce lynx, the arguments would be considered.

But he said: “I think the trouble with the rewilding argument is that it has been very much wrapped up with large predators. I don’t think that helps at all. I think the sensitivities around large predators are still great. We are talking about people’s livelihoods.”

He said it was one thing to argue that Scotland’s ecosystem should have more of a balance between predators and prey, adding: “But if you are saying we want to go back and pretend the last few hundred years [haven’t happened], that’s not valid to me.”

Asked whether we could expect the return of the lynx any time soon, he said “I am not seeing it at the moment.”

Mr Jardine said SNH had achieved a lot in the last decade and a half, normally working with others. “I think we have done a lot on nature conservation, species protection. We have good results on golden eagles, corncrake numbers, red squirrels, and the work on freshwater pearl mussels which was European funded.”

Also tied to climate there had been work on the peatlands “which is really important to Scotland in a global context.”

On the downside, the corner had yet to be turned on capercaillie numbers, despite a lot of effort. There had also been a decline in some wading birds.  He added: “It is also well known there are continuing challenges over deer numbers and wildlife crime. These were hot issues  15 years ago, and they are still there for my successor.”

“Second you also still get the idea that somehow the environment is a middle-class concern. It is just not true.  People may have bigger problems. They are concerned about their health and job but not as an alternative to caring about the environment.”