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Reservations about Lynx Reintroductions

lynx_eurasischer_lynx_northern_lynx
So, the calls for reintroducing lynx to Britain have transformed into action. The Wild Lynx Trust is actively seeking licences bring to test populations to three different areas of that island Aberdeenshire, Cumbria and Norfolk.
Of course, there are concerns for human safety – unfounded and ridiculous ones which don’t warrant discussion, though one article did state that they are not considered a risk to people.
And this week, both the British Deer Society and the Wild Deer Association of Ireland have issued statements expressing grave reservations about the reintroductions. The latter’s just in case anyone gets the wild idea of restoring the lynx to Ireland, where it’s been absent for longer, admittedly.
Now, I’m an advocate of deer societies. I used to be a member of the BDS, and I was very active in the Irish Deer Society when I lived at home. If I was still there, I would be still. They’re usually the only advocates for the deer.
But they also advocate for deerstalkers. Most of their members are deerstalkers – which is not as strange some might assume, but that’s another day’s discussion.
And in this case they are putting the stalkers before the deer – the lazy ones at that.
Deer hunting is hard. But we all know that going in, and if we go home with no venison, well, that’s hunting too.
As long as the deer and the habitat are healthy, we’ve done our job.
Venison is great and a healthy meat, but we’re not going to starve when we have veggies and rabbits.
Anyway, the BDS says “Lynx will clearly not address growing populations of fallow deer in England and Wales nor areas of local overpopulation of red deer in Scotland,” and that “Lynx are efficient killers of roe deer – the species which presents the least threat to woodland.” They basically suggest that the lynx will feed on the roe and ignore the fallow and probably muntjac.
The latter is an unknown quantity as yet – they’re smaller than roe, are very secretive and I think present the perfect prey for lynx, but they’re from outside the lynx’s natural range., and so won’t know for a while.
So if the lynx keep the roe under control and hunters were already doing that okay, well, the hunters just need to leave the roe to nature and concentrate on the fallow – and the muntjac if need be.
We can’t expect the lynx to do all our job for us, but it can help out and spread the work, as it were.
But that’s not the point either.
The WDAI actually, and inadvertently, get it right when, in trying to claim that Ireland is completely different from Britain with regard the deer. They says lynx will have an impact only on the natural balance of the ecosystem, in terms of other native or indigenous species, such as the Irish hare or ground nesting birds, partridge for example and of course the migratory species.
That is the point.
We seem to need to give reasons for reintroductions in terms of it being necessary, to solve some problem (usually of our making).
But why?
Did people say the salmon and trout were going fucking mental before the reintroduction of the white tailed sea eagle? Did they say there Scots were being attacked by birch trees before bringing back the beaver? Was Wicklow’s Avoca vale run amok with small mammals before the red kite began to soar over it once more?
Conversely, did they say the fox should be eradicated because it does a shit job of controlling rabbits, while it snacks on the odd lamb or two? Actually some would love that, so perhaps bad example.
No. And if they did, they were frowned at and told to go stand in the corner until they copped themselves on.
These animals need to be reintroduced because they belong, they make our islands richer, our hearts glad. Not because we’re putting them to work.
Perhaps the lynx won’t miraculously solve our deer problem. But in Ireland, it will certainly help with the rabbits (and foxes would do a better job if they weren’t snared and poisoned and shot so much).
And most importantly, it will be another cog in the machinery of our environment. It will help the natural balance, it will give some more stability, so populations of deer, among others, are not so subject to the vagaries of our human nonsense, and resultant wide variation in numbers. For example, we have increases in the overall number of hunters – more or less inexperienced and ineffective – during economic booms and lots of unscrupulous poachers during recessions.
Lastly, the BDS calls for “a clear exit strategy.”
What exit strategy? The stated aim is to have hundreds of lynx in the country. After the five years, does anyone really believe that there will be a call to remove them? Based on what? Human safety? If they really need to be eradicated, it won’t be that hard. We made them extinct on the island before. With medieval technology. We won’t be overrun with cats we can’t eradicate, for heaven’s sake.
The opposite scenario will probably be the problem – also referred to by the WDAI, who say “the lynx may even fall foul to gamekeeper traps, snared as does the fox and will become persecuted.”
Given our recent experience of poisoning raptors in Ireland that hits the heart. Of course, when Ireland has grown up a bit, when those old ways of thinking have died out because those who thought like that have died, there will be a life for all wildlife in Ireland.

Some anti-predator propaganda showing the opposition even foxes have in Ireland

So yesterday I logged into facebook to find the post below on the WDAI page…
Wild Deer Association of Ireland
Not a nice sight, foxes are opportunist killers and will regularly kill deer fawns and even family pets if the opportunity arises.
fox roe fawn

Needless to say, the picture – of what seems to be a roe fawn (not even present in Ireland) in the jaws of a fox  – and the very negative caption generated some debate: most of it thankfully in support of the fox.

I chimed in myself and found myself having to second-guess a world-renowned deer biologist, but some of the figures just seem incorrect to me. I might have to retract, but I doubt it. You can read the comments on the WDAI page..

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wild-Deer-Association-of-Ireland/125121684177148

It just goes to show how far we have to go in Ireland to get acceptance of predators – even ones doing their proper and correct ecological role! – and even small ones. Recent reports of the tragic death of one of just two White Tailed Eagles born in Ireland in a century drives this home (http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/action-needed-to-save-white-tailed-eagles-in-ireland-1.1715580) . We have our work cut out for us as ecologists….

 

Comments on my recent deer management article, from the Wild Deer Association of Ireland

I posted a link to my article on deer management in Ireland on the Wild Deer Association of Ireland facebook page and they had the following comments, to which I also posted a reply.
http://iwt.ie/2014/02/oh-deer-what-to-do-about-our-four-legged-friends/
An article just published on IWT.ie discussing the deer population and ways to achieve a better ballance.
Oh Deer, what to do about our four-legged friends? | Irish Wildlife Trust

 

David thank you for sharing, though well written and some interesting discussion points on poaching, respect for our wild deer and experiences in Spain, we have a number serious concerns about this article such statements as “that at the moment little is done to hold back deer population increases, and that even mostly it is denied that the increases are taking place or that they are a potential problem” also the reference to increased populations resulting in increased culls with no reference to the corresponding increase in hunting licenses, ignore the current reality of those who work with deer in Ireland.Of further concern is the quote from Andrew Doyle TD as a reliable source of information on deer populations in Co Wicklow. In the same article, but not referred to, Andrew Doyle makes misleading comments by claiming to know Co Wicklow’s deer population and blames deer for the spread of TB while again ignoring the significant decline in section 42 permits by landowners, that we have significant increases in the number of deer hunting licenses but a reducing national cull, research which shows less than 1% deer damage to commercial Irish forestry from deer and less than 2% TB detection in deer carcasses.
    • There are some things we disagree about. The increases in harvest numbers since the 1990s was associated with the spread through the country as reported by Carden et al., so it’s unlikely they were due primarily to the increase in hunters – though of course, if there are deer in new areas there are new areas to hunt and more hunters. The hunters are (were) not cleaning out deer populations and deer were still spreading. As many have reported when describing the poaching problem, there were deer in their areas a couple of years ago. The number of deer hunters in areas with deer over decades can’t have increased that much – there are only so many hunters in a syndicate that can be accommodated on a piece of land, regardless of how many deer there are. The numbers increased over the last decade and more, simple as that. Now… the last two or so years does seem to have shown a decrease, or at least a leveling off. I’ve said that. The reduction in section 42s is a good thing, as it shows that there are fewer problems now with a stopping of the population increases and that the requests for them were not just spurious attempts to extend the hunting season. How we got that halt to the previous increases is also discussed. The fact that the national cull is reducing is not, in my opinion, a problem. It is a good thing for deer and all deer enthusiasts in the long run. I don’t want it to happen because of poaching, though. Nor does anyone else. Andrew Doyle TD was quoted to show someone in the Dail seeing deer numbers as a concern. He doesn’t know the deer numbers, nobody does. But in some areas they are too high. I recall a forester saying on this webpage that he knew the deer numbers had been reduced by poaching recently because he used to see lots of damage. 1% nationally does not mean no problem hotspots, which give deer (and their managers) a bad name. That’s my point here. We can agree to disagree but when someone who doesn’t care about deer comes in and starts telling us that deer need to be sorted out because there hasn’t been sufficient control, then we have let deer and ourselves down