A MAJOR wildlife charity has backed the reintroduction of a once native predator as part of a move towards "rewilding" Scotland.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust said it wants to bring back the Eurasian lynx to this country to help recreate natural habitats, although the plan has been opposed by some farmers.

The Trust's chief executive Jonny Hughes said it believes there is both a moral and ecological case for reintroduction of species that have been made extinct in Scotland due to habitat loss and persecution.

Future rewilding could involve the reinstatement of missing species including predators such as the Eurasian lynx.

Proponents claim that the lynx poses little threat to sheep and is a specialist predator of roe deer, a species which has multiplied in Scotland in recent years and which holds back the natural regeneration of some trees.

Reintroducing top-level predators such as the lynx would help restore the balance in Scotland's natural ecosystems, which continue to decline in the face of widespread threats such as overgrazing and inappropriate development, according to the Trust.

Mr Hughes said: "The Scottish Wildlife Trust has experience in bringing keystone species back to Scotland, having been a lead partner in the groundbreaking Scottish Beaver Trial, a trial reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver to Argyll.

"This was the first ever licensed reintroduction of a mammal species to the UK.

"The five-year scientific monitoring period of the Scottish Beaver Trial has now come to an end and we await a ministerial decision on the future of beavers in Scotland.

"We believe that lynx should also be considered for reintroduction and in many ways could be a flagship for the restoration of native habitats, particularly woodlands into the future."

Mr Hughes continued: "Although reintroductions of this nature are complex and must follow strict international guidelines, Scotland is leading the way with its new Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations launched by the Scottish Government earlier this year, through the work of the Scottish National Species Reintroduction Forum of which the Trust is a key member.

"Finding the right locations will be one of the major challenges for a potential lynx project and there will be a range of stakeholders who will need to work in partnership to ensure the best chance of success and support, as has been the case in the Scottish Beaver Trial.

"It is important that we all understand the potential benefits of bringing back the lynx to our woodland ecosystems, but also to our forestry and tourism industries.

"At the same time we should understand the challenges that this beautiful once native cat will bring with it."

Writer George Monbiot and conservationist Alan Watson Featherstone of Trees for Life said enthusiasm for rewilding - the large-scale restoration of damaged natural ecosystems - has grown in some quarters.

Mr Monbiot said: "Rewilding offers us a big chance to reverse destruction of the natural world.

"Letting trees return to bare and barren uplands, allowing the seabed to recover from trawling, and bringing back missing species would help hundreds of species that might otherwise struggle to survive, while rekindling wonder and enchantment that often seems missing in modern-day Britain."

Mr Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life executive director, said: "In the Highlands we have the opportunity to reverse environmental degradation and create a spectacular, world-class wilderness region, offering a lifeline to wildlife including beavers, capercaillie, wood ants and pine martens, and restoring natural forests and wild spaces for our children and grandchildren to enjoy."

NFU Scotland is among a number of farming unions across Europe said to have had "serious reservations" over the reintroduction of lynx.