The reintroduction of wolves is no joke
A few weeks ago we shared a piece from the Yorkshire Post on our Facebook page. The article, by GP Taylor, was titled: “How reintroducing wolves to Yorkshire countryside can help tourism”, and it caused something of a stir among our followers. “I love wolves, but they have to be in their natural habitat, not forced into an unnatural situation”, wrote one. Another: “They’ve got to be joking!”. But the most common response was a concern for farmers and shepherds – and their livestock – as well as others who live on the moors. As one lady pointed out, there is already some conflict between farmers and walkers, as was demonstrated recently in the New Forest, where farmers were asked to dehorn their grazing cattle due to a rise in the number of reports of cattle attacking dog walkers. Unsurprisingly, many of the farmers weren’t keen on the idea – but what will happen when wolves start taking sheep and other livestock?
It isn’t just wolves that are being mooted; ‘Unherd’ have published a similar piece – although less Yorkshire-specific – titled “Let loose the lynx”. The author discusses a number of species reintroductions that have happened in recent years: red kite, white-tailed eagle and beaver. “These species, though, could be just the start”, he writes. “Perhaps it is time to be more ambitious about what we bring back.” Lynx are his first ambition, and it’s true that lynx are widespread across Europe. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Even when animals which aren’t apex predators, like the beaver and the white-tailed eagle, are reintroduced, they can be controversial.
White-tailed eagles have been accused by farmers of taking lambs, and a Scottish Natural Heritage report earlier this year acknowledged that the birds can – and will – take live lambs. There have also been concerns over white-tailed eagles competing with golden eagles for territory and prey. In the case of beavers, while their advocates say that they help prevent flooding, other landowners complain that they cause flooding and damage trees, as well as affecting the passage of migrating fish and the ecosystem of rivers.
And those are just some of the issues that crop up when we talk about non-apex predators. A request to release six lynx in Northumberland was rejected by Defra secretary Michael Gove last year, due to a lack of support from locals, and the fact that the "socio-economic benefits of the trial were unclear". The people behind the plan, Lynx UK, argued that any concerns over livestock predation were "baseless". However in countries which do have both lynx and wolves, such as Norway and Sweden, thousands of sheep are killed by predators each year.
It's easy to dismiss talk of releasing wolves as unrealistic, but there are people out there who are very keen to see it happen, and will do all they can to try to realise their plans. We need to make sure that whatever animals are reintroduced – be that the beaver, the wolf or the lynx – the people who will be affected; the local communities, the farmers and the keepers are protected; more protected than whichever creature is next in line for reintroduction.