WOULD you be scared to go into the woods if lynxes were lying in wait? Probably not, since like many large carnivores, these big cats are smart. They see us more as a threat than a main course, and with good reason. But the recently mooted plan to reintroduce these beautiful animals to Argyllshire and Inverness-shire feels less like an advance for ecological diversity, and more an act of potential folly. Not in terms of our own safety, but of others’.

There was a flurry of excitement this summer when news of a proposed trial broke. A scheme conceived between the Lynx UK Trust and a handful of landowners, it is the dearest wish of those whose mission is to rewild the country with species that were once indigenous. People who coo over cuddlesome cats were won over immediately, as were environmental purists whose consciences are still sore over the mass exterminations caused by our ignorant forebears.

On that, at least, I am with them. What our arrow, snare and blunderbuss-happy ancestors did was brutal, greedy and thoughtless. They knew no better, but that doesn’t make it right. Thanks to their insatiable appetite for food, fur and killing, the landscape lost some of its most valuable and distinctive natives, not just lynx but beavers, lemmings, and white-tailed eagles. Not to mention the slaughter in Victorian times of millions of game birds and deer, where the only limit to the carnage was the number of horses and carts available to carry them off. Thankfully they were not hunted to extinction, but even today the sound of guns on grouse moors echoes an age when wildlife was seen as fair game. To those generations, the concept of preserving nature was what their wives did to pickles and plums.

Nobody can deny that by-gone hunters were misguided, be they crofters or lairds. It’s an argument that boosts the claims of advocates for the lynx, who point out that until 1300 years ago, this was their home too. Through no fault of their own, except the desirable thickness of their pelts, they were wiped out. But times change, and that is as true of the eco-system as of human civilization itself. What was an important element of how the wilds functioned when Saint Columba was alive, is today a potential spanner in the works.

Alarmed by the prospect of big cats prowling near their livestock, the National Farmers Union recently sent a delegation to Norway for advice. Their Nordic counterparts were categorical. Over 20% of sheep killed in Norway can be attributed to the lynx. Unfortunately for them, they have a slew of other predators who also pick them off, but their conclusion was nevertheless bleak. If Scotland goes down this route, it would be “an absolute catastrophe”. The picture they paint is so stark, it could be a Grimm’s fairytale. But there is nothing fictional or fanciful about their opinion point of view. They speak from experience.

The NFU was right to seek authoritative confirmation of their fears, but one doubts it will have come as a great surprise. Lynx take the easiest possible route to food, and slow, docile and corralled animals such as sheep, are the perfect prey. Meanwhile, as we grapple with the idea of voluntarily bringing lynxes into our hills, in parts of Europe the steady westward march of wolverines, jackals and wolves is causing consternation among shepherds. There, as here, these wild hunters pose relatively little danger to humans but if you are a sheep, goat or calf, right now your knees will be knocking at the thought of seeing such fanged predators in your field. For a lamb or chicken, the lynx’s tufted ears we find so adorable are as terrifying as a shark’s fin circling your surfboard.

At heart, the issue is one not of rights, but of reason. Rewilding is a lovely idea, in theory. Who wouldn’t want our hills and valleys filled with such creatures? And in some cases it has already worked well, notably with sea eagles and beavers. Yet even a carefully controlled release programme of beavers swiftly expanded beyond the original zone. Fortunately there’s a limit to how much damage they can cause, and the benefits far outweigh the harm. But to alter the hierarchy of species by dramatically introducing an alpha predator like the lynx is to play God with mother nature – when we can’t even take care of our endangered wild cats. Keeping down excessive deer herds is often the justification for wolves, or lynx, or shooting parties. Surely it is not beyond our powers, though, to devise a way of controlling them humanely, without introducing the unpredictable and potentially unpreventable destruction of livestock such big beasts might cause?

To continue to agitate for the lynx’s introduction is to place its ancient rights higher than the rights of our farmers and – by extension – of us, who rely on their husbandry of the land. And where do we stop? If lynx were once our neighbours, so were brown bears, aurochs, and woolly rhinoceros. Dinosaurs too, I believe.