Lynx Feasibility Study
The Lifescape Project is an ecosystem restoration and rewilding charity which wants to see a global ecological landscape where wild nature can coexist and thrive alongside humanity. Our areas of work include the reintroduction of species that are missing from ecosystems due to anthropogenic reasons where that is appropriate and feasible.
Lifescape is working in partnership with Panthera, the global specialist cat conservation charity, and a number of other institutions and specialists to undertake a comprehensive, collaborative and multidisciplinary feasibility study of the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) to England and Wales.
Laws and Guidance
The Bern Convention to which the UK is a contracting party, Article 11(2), requires that each Contracting Party undertake to encourage the reintroduction of native species of wild flora and fauna.
Under the recent 25 Year Environment Plan the UK Government is taking actions to provide opportunities for the reintroduction of native species. This includes creating the structures necessary to properly discuss and consider potential reintroductions through DEFRA’s new Code and Good Practice Guidance for Reintroductions and Conservation translocations in England.
According to the IUCN’s international guidelines for species reintroductions and the new Code for England, an early stage in the assessment of a potential species reintroduction is the assessment of its feasibility.
No comprehensive study of the feasibility of a reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx to England and Wales has been conducted. Various aspects of overall feasibility have been addressed, such as work on ecological feasibility, but no overall assessment is available and work to the satisfaction of the licensing authority is not yet complete.
November 2018 Decision on Lynx Reintroduction
A licence application for a trial reintroduction of the Eurasian Lynx to the UK was made in 2017 by an organisation which is independent of The Lifescape Project and its current collaborators. On 30 November 2018 the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs then declined to grant a licence to the applicant [GB1] for the trial reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx to England. This was based on advice provided to the Secretary of State by Natural England, in relation to a specific application. The application was denied for a number of reasons, including due to a lack of evidence of the feasibility of a reintroduction.
As such there is clearly a need for further work focussing on feasibility.
Starting in April 2021, Lifescape has been undertaking a comprehensive, collaborative and multidisciplinary feasibility study of reintroduction of lynx to England and Wales, building on our previous experience, lessons learned, recent work such as Walsh (2020), and the best available new evidence and information.
This work is not an application for a licence but rather a feasibility study that takes a step back from recent discourse to consider all relevant aspects of feasibility of such a reintroduction, including all aspects of ecological, legal and economic feasibility.
The study will incorporate all relevant knowledge on the subject, including a new literature review on the topic, incorporation of the findings of Natural England’s Technical Assessment of a licence application made in 2017 and rejected in 2018, learnings from relevant species reintroduction case studies compiled by the IUCN’s “Global Reintroductions Perspectives” series, learnings from other lynx reintroduction projects in Europe, and learnings from the experiences of other organisations who have recently engaged in species reintroduction projects in England, amongst other sources. In particular, it will pursue the recommendations within Walsh (2020) as to areas of evidence that require further investigation.
It will be carried out in accordance with the IUCN Guidelines on species reintroductions and other conservation translocations and DEFRA’s new Reintroductions and other conservation translocations: code and guidance for England.
The study will draw conclusions based on the evidence in relation to all key aspects of reintroduction feasibility, including identifying any current barriers to the feasibility of the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx in England and making recommendations as to next steps for further investigation, if appropriate.
Given that it will not be clear where local social feasibility assessments would need to take place, or whether conducting such assessments is even appropriate (it could be that the study finds reintroduction to be otherwise unfeasible), this area of work will be left for a later time, once it is clear if and where reintroduction might be feasible from all other perspectives. The work will however cover planning for social engagement work and an assessment of social feasibility on a local level, and will also consider the evidence already generated with regard to social feasibility.
Project Roles and Guidance
To support this feasibility work, Lifescape is in the process of drawing together a broad network of national and international conservation organisations and individual experts, with relevant expertise and an interest in the feasibility of the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx to England and Wales.
Lifescape is managing the production of the study. This has included identifying senior experts in various fields to contribute to the overall work and managing their input, as well as dealing with numerous substantive parts of the study.
Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems.
Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, tigers and the 33 small cat species and their vast landscapes.
In 35 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours.
Panthera has provided funding for the study and will be providing expert input in several key areas, based on their extensive international experience of cat conservation.
External experts have been engaged in various disciplines in order to address specific aspects of feasibility including Disease Risk Assessment, Habitat and Population Modelling, Genetic Modelling and Feasibility, Legal Feasibility, Economic Impacts and Feasibility, Planning for Social Feasibility.
Natural England is an executive non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. Natural England is the UK government’s adviser for the natural environment in England and helps to protect and restore our natural world.
Lifescape has been in regular contact with the relevant specialists at Natural England as it has planned this work. Natural England and Lifescape have entered into terms of reference, committing to continuing to meet regularly during the course of the study to ensure the work meets its intended purpose and is an adequate evidence base for decision making in the future.
Other organisations are making great progress in protecting and managing habitats for our threatened species, and we hope that their work will help to make extinctions a rarer event in the UK. For some wildlife, however, it is already too late.
A great number of species that once swam in our rivers, soared through our skies, and fluttered over our meadows are no longer around for us to experience and enjoy. The Lifescape Project’s Species Reintroduction Programme aims to re-connect local communities with their surrounding environment and the iconic species that have shaped our cultural identity, traditions, and history.
In practice, this project aims to support local conservation groups and the wider community as they navigate the sometimes daunting process of reintroducing species or restoring an ecosystem. The first step has been to work with the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust to identify species which could potentially be reintroduced in the North of England. By setting out a simple evidence-based assessment, we hope to enable an informed debate on reintroduction in the area, and through this process, we hope to empower local communities to make their own aims for nature conservation a reality. You can read our report below:
Building on our work in the North of England we are now developing a flexible guide to reintroductions that other groups and organisations could use across the UK when setting out on their own reintroduction journeys.
The project is led by Max Heaver, a Civil Servant at Defra and Trustee of the Lifescape Project. If you want to learn more about this exciting project you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.