Sheep deaths spark renewed fears in Borders over lynx release plans

Lilith, the lynx shot dead in Wales last Friday.
Lilith, the lynx shot dead in Wales last Friday.

Claims that an escaped lynx killed seven sheep in Wales in a matter of days have sparked renewed concerns over plans to release six of the wildcats in Kielder Forest, just south of the English border.

That apparent death toll has prompted farmers’ representatives to question research by the Lynx UK Trust, the organisation applying for a trial release of Eurasian lynx in the Northumbrian forest, suggesting that the cats kill fewer than one sheep apiece every two years in the wild.

The seven sheep said to have been killed by Lilith.

The seven sheep said to have been killed by Lilith.

Lillith, an 18-month-old Eurasian lynx twice the size of a domestic cat, was shot dead last Friday night by a council-hired marksman after escaping from Borth Wild Animal Kingdom, near Aberystwyth, on Sunday, October 29.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales claims seven sheep found dead nearby were killed by Lilith, and that possible death toll has prompted Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton to voice renewed concerns for the safety of livestock in the Borders if lynx are set loose just south of Carter Bar.

The Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP wrote to Scottish Government environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham asking for assurances that Borders’ farmers concerns about the proposals would be heeded, and she has now been told that they will.

Ms Cunningham told her: “It has been agreed with natural England that the Scottish Government will be asked to submit views on the application, given the cross-border implications of any decision to release lynx at that location.

“I can assure you that the potential impacts on livestock will form a key part of the views submitted by the Scottish Government.”

Mrs Hamilton was glad to hear that, saying: “I am pleased that concerns will be listened to by Natural England before any lynx are reintroduced into the wild.

“The potential danger to livestock must be a key consideration.

“The damage a lynx can cause can be lethal, as shown by the horrific incidents in Wales.

“I do have reservations about the reintroduction and the impact it will have on our agricultural livestock in a time when sheep-worrying is also on the rise.”

This year Lothians and Borders saw the second highest number of livestock-worrying incidents in the country, with 27 cases being recorded by Police Scotland.

A spokesman for the Welsh farmers’ union said: “Given the risk to people and livestock, action to remove such a danger was long overdue.

“Despite being around the size of a sheepdog, an animal like this will routinely kill animals much bigger than itself, and the fact it was used to humans increased the risk it posed to the public.

“Some have already expressed their outrage over the shooting, but the public reaction would have been far greater had the animal attacked an adult or child, as has happened elsewhere.

“It is no coincidence that the places targeted for campaigns to release lynxes are remote rural areas, and claims their impacts on livestock are negligible are not borne out by the evidence from the continent.”

Borth Wild Animal Kingdom owner Tracy Tweedy disputes the union’s claims that her runaway lynx was responsible for the sheep’s deaths, however.

“In my opinion, it is highly unlikely for several reasons,” she said.

“One of the main reasons is had that happened, it would have to have happened within the first couple of days of her leaving here because when the farmer found them on the 31st, they had already been dead for a few days, so she must have literally got out and killed them, and then she was missing for a further two weeks and not a single sheep was killed in an area where we are literally surrounded by sheep.

“She would have had ample opportunity to demolish half the sheep in Wales if she was killing seven in a night.

“I’m not making light of it. The farmer has lost his sheep somehow.

“If it turns out it is our lynx, then obviously he will be fully compensated for that, but I can’t see how it can be.”