The Farming Community often decry Conservationists for scaremongering. For example on the question of whether Neonicotinoids are contributing to the loss of pollinating invertebrates such as Bees.
But farmers are not immune to bouts of hysterical scaremongering either, particularly when it comes to returning extinct mammals.
The latest outburst from Phil Stocker of the National Sheep Association shows how some in the farming community are pathologically afraid of relinquishing the absolute control they have over our landscapes. I think it is a form of megalomania – a phobia of extinct predators. This from Farmers Weekly today:
Plans to release wild lynx into the British countryside have encountered stiff opposition from sheep farmers.
The Lynx UK Trust conservation charity wants to reintroduce the animal into three areas of Aberdeenshire, Cumbria and Suffolk.
It is in the process of submitting an official application for permission to do so to Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage.
But the National Sheep Association has voiced its opposition to the scheme.
Reintroducing lynx after more than 1,300 years of extinction would pose a real threat to British livestock, said the association.
Even trial work with the wild cat would lead to predation of livestock, in particular, ewes and lambs, it warned.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker has written to Natural England head James Cross and Defra minister Lord De Mauley over the issue.
Mr Stocker said: “Our primary concern is that the lynx will threaten livelihoods and businesses within the farming industry. Ewes and lambs would be much easier prey than deer because they can’t get away so quickly.
He added: “We were heartened to receive a speedy response from Natural England, assuring us that, if and when it receives an application from the Lynx UK Trust, it will consult ‘all relevant parties’ and consider the socio-economic impacts of the reintroduction, as well as impacts on the environment and the animals themselves.
“This is vitally important, as the project will disrupt vulnerable ecosystems and challenge the viability of sheep farms. This will, in turn, have a damaging impact on farmers’ livelihoods and businesses if the lynx prey on sheep.”
Mr Stocker said believed that the charity hadn’t considered the long-term implications of the project.
“It’s all very well to talk about the release of six or eight lynx, but how do you control them in the years to come when numbers get to a point where they threaten sheep in the area?”
For starters the Lynx Trust is not a charity. I saw something a while ago on its facebook page that it was applying for charitable status, but this has disappeared now. I wonder whether their application for charitable status has been refused. This could be related to the decision by the Charity Commission to refuse to register the The Wolf Trust, as they did not believe that reintroducing the Wolf to Scotland would deliver any public benefit.
Or I may be barking up entirely the wrong tree and setting various Hare’s running (no doubt which will be caught by the Lynx) and the Lynx Trust are just waiting for the Charity Commission to wake up and process their application.
Secondly, a Lynx reintroduction might lead to livestock being eaten. Yes! It might! And….?
I don’t wish to teach sheep farmers to suck eggs, but sheep are bred to be eaten. That is why sheep exist. So does it matter by what animal sheep are eaten?
Bearing in mind that almost all sheep farming (and certainly all upland sheep farming) depends entirely for its existence on public subsidies, through the Common Agricultural Policy, then surely it’s up to the subsidy-paying public whether we mind, that a few subsidised sheep are eaten by Lynx instead of being eaten by people (or dogs).
I would certainly support a programme of compensation for sheep eaten by Lynx, as happens in every other country in Europe where Lynx occur. As I wrote before, farmers complaining about livestock being eaten by savage predators is one of the oldest stories of all.
Finally Mr Stocker is afear’d that returning Lynx to Britain will “disrupt vulnerable ecosystems”. This is hilarious – the idea that the spokesman for the sheep industry, which conducts one of the most damaging activities for nature in the UK, is worried that a handful of Lynx will disrupt anything, really does beggar belief. The whole point of restoring extinct species such as the Beaver or the Lynx is because we now understand how important these creatures are for the key roles they play in ecosystems. We have a terrible and increasing problem with wild deer in the UK; reintroducing the Lynx is one way of reducing the national deer population.
But there’s a bigger point at stake here. Which is, who decides what happens to nature in the UK? Can we really be held hostage by vested interests such as the National Sheep Association? The fight to stop the River Otter Beavers from being killed suggests that with enough public outcry we can achieve a change in these antediluvian attitudes.