WHAT will Scotland look like 100 years from now? Imagine your great-great-grandchildren visiting the Highlands and what they might see. Imagine a landscape completely different to the way it is now. Imagine more woodland and less moorland. And imagine looking up and glimpsing, just for a second, through a gap in the trees, or up on the crest of a hill, an animal of a different kind.

I’m talking about the lynx. That beautiful cat with the tufts of black on its ears, and that distinctive ruff under its chin, and the slashes of gold and brown along its back and down its legs. The Eurasian lynx is one of nature’s most elegant pieces of design, but it hasn’t been around in Scotland for 1000 years. Could it come back? It’s a compelling idea: the big cat in the big country, the return of the wild, the triumph of how we used to be.

But maybe you have worries. Maybe you’re a sheep farmer and have heard about the thousands of sheep killed every year by lynx in Norway. Maybe you think the Scottish Government would end up paying out millions of pounds in compensation. Maybe you think Scotland is too small. Or perhaps you just think the benefits of reintroducing lynx and other predators have been exaggerated. All of this is understandable.

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And if you have worries, now is the time to speak up. Three major charities that support rewilding – Scotland: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and the Vincent Wildlife Trust – have just announced they’re going to be carrying out a major consultation on the idea. They say there’s never been a big, formal, rigorous study of public attitudes towards the possible reintroduction of the lynx and now is the time to do it.

Obviously, you need to bear in mind that the charities concerned are coming at the subject from a particular point of view: they believe the reintroduction of a major predator like the lynx will help to maintain and restore Scotland’s woodlands, and they believe it for a simple reason. Deer eat trees, lynx eat deer, therefore less deer and more trees. That is the crux of their argument.

And it has to be said, the evidence is compelling. Look at Yellowstone National Park in the States for example. Wolves were released there in the 90s and the changes have been remarkable. First, the numbers of deer were reduced so more trees grew. Which meant more birds, and more fish where the trees provided shade on the water. The regrowth also encouraged beavers, which in turned encouraged fish, frogs, and reptiles. It was a profound transformation of the ecosystem, a cascade effect all the way down from the predator at the top of the food chain.

The same could happen with lynx, although we cannot be sure of course. I’ve spoken to people in the gamekeeping community who say lynx can have unforeseen consequences: animals that are fearful of the big cats, they say, can herd together for safety and do even more damage to forests. Gamekeepers also argue that reintroducing the lynx would require serious management and monitoring which is surely against the principles of rewilding.

I think those concerns are understandable, particularly when you have livelihoods to protect, but you also have to look at the data from the around the world and it’s convincing. Lynx do not tend to take many sheep at all, and Norway is probably a special case because the sheep there are less likely to be kept in enclosed pastures and more likely to be grazing free in forests. Where sheep farming is more controlled, the lynx are barely a problem.

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Also, consider this: the lynx thrives in countries that are more densely populated than we are: France for example. And think of how Scotland might be in 200 years. Maybe we won’t be dividing the land into smaller and smaller parcels and trying to extract as much from it as we can. Maybe humans will have stopped sticking their oar in and getting it wrong. And maybe your great-great-grandchildren will look up one day and catch a glimpse, through the trees, of the glorious lynx.

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