It’s understandable why sheep farmers and their organisations should be worried about the reintroduction of Apex Predators such as Wolf and Lynx. Recent proposals to reintroduce Lynx have met with stiff opposition from the likes of the National Sheep Association, and their revulsion at the idea of a predator that eats sheep being brought back into the countryside forced Natural England to make a statement.
“Any application to introduce lynx into England would need very serious consideration in terms of its impact right across the UK. If such an application were made, Natural England would consider it in line with prevailing legislation; international guidelines; following proper public consultation and evidence gathering, and taking into account any input from government.”
The Lynx Trust has garnered much attention and a good deal of public support over the last few months, and it’s great that they have created debate around the issue of reintroducing large extinct mammals. That they didn’t really help themselves by making nonsensical statements that “the countryside is dying and the Lynx will bring it back to life” is beside the point.
Farmers will not want their sheep to be killed by predators such as Lynx or Wolf, and even though Lynx take relatively few sheep in countries where they are currently found, for a sheep farmer to lose a prized breeding ewe or ram is always heartbreaking. But there is another angle here, which is that this is happening already. There is an apex predator roaming the hills killing sheep. It’s the domesticated Wolf, or dog as its more commonly known.
North Wales police have been gathering statistics on the number of dog-worrying sheep incidents and found there were 108 incidents over the past 12 months. They found there were on average 9 incidents a month, with one incident involving 30 sheep. When a dog is found to have attacked sheep, the owner can be fined and the dog destroyed. And this is what North Wales police have done, enforce the law. But as far as I know, the sheep farmer does not receive compensation for their loss. In this case, 70 sheep were killed by three dogs, casuing a £20,000 loss, but no compensation was paid.
So here’s the rub; Lynx, when they do take lambs or sheep, only take what they need, just one animal per kill. Dogs will behave differently, and especially if there is more than one dog, can kill large numbers of sheep in one attack. There would be a compensation scheme for sheep lost to Lynx attacks, no such compensation scheme exists or is likely to for domestic dog attacks.
Would the presence of Lynx in an area cause the behaviour of domestic dogs to change? Would they behave more warily in those circumstances, or indeed would their owners behave more circumspectly? Perhaps not.
But it does seem pretty clear to me that if I were a sheep farmer I would rather have the minor problem of having the occasional animal taken by a Lynx (with compensation), than having the major problem of sheep worrying by domestic dogs.
Dog worrying incidents continue to rise across the UK….yet the NSA seem keen to focus publicity on what a handful of Lynx might do to their flocks. Have they given up the fight to get dog owners to act responsibly?
Photo by Evelyn Simak [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons