Back to the primitive : Reintroducing large predators to Scotland

I always thought it was odd that the lion is considered to be symbolic of Great Britain, but we don’t actually have wild lions here; it’s kinda like Fiji deciding to make the polar bear its national animal.

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Straight up G

However, after doing some research, I learned that we did at least use to have lions in Britain, along with giraffes and even hippos! – Albeit this was 13,000 years ago when the climate was warmer but still, they were here. I guess under the same logic you could make the case to have a stegosaurus on our Olympic logo instead of a lion but whatever.

But lions arent the only large carnivore that used to stalk the British isles – as recently as 1,000 years ago in Scotland, bears, wolves and Lynxes used to inhabit our island. Sadly a Combination of habitat loss (95 % of Scotland used to be covered in forest – it is now around 17%) and hunting pushed these species into local extinction.

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And this lack of predators is a major contributing factor in the population explosion of deer, between four species there are estimated 777,000, of them in Scotland and this has a crippling effect on natural vegetation and overall ecosystem health due to overgrazing. You might think that being a deer in an environment with no predators would be smooth sailing, but while they don’t have to worry about being eaten themselves competition for food is high, and disease transmission is substantially increased due to the animals living in proximity to one another.

Many solutions have been put forward to deal with this problem, perhaps the most controversial being the reintroduction of large predators back into the wilderness to re-establish the natural equilibrium. However, the mechanics of how this would impact the deer population are not as obvious as you might expect.

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For example – let’s say you reintroduce the grey wolf back into Scotland; you could only fit around 18 individuals across the country due to their territorial nature and limitation of suitable habitat. While 18 wolves may kill a decent amount of deer (probably around 15-20 each every year), it would be an insignificant dent in their wider population.

However, studies have shown that the mere presence of predators means that the deer spend much more time watching out for predators and spend much less time eating and reproducing and this causes there fecundity (populations reproductive output) to decrease significantly.

So if we reintroduce large predators into Scotland, they would actually eat very little deer, but their presence spooks them enough to change their behaviour and in turn curb their population. So out of our locally extinct predators, which ones would be most suitable for reintroduction?

Bears

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Black, brown and even polar bears used to call Scotland home, while these half cuddly half nightmare fuel animals would be sure to scare the shit out of the deer, they would also do the same to people. We are very fortunate to have wild camping laws in Scotland which give us the right to camp pretty much anywhere, but these may need to be revised if there where bears are roaming around. Proponents for bear reintroduction point out that the European brown bear is known to be typically less aggressive than the American grizzly  but at the end of the day its still a fucking bear.

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 Up top bro.

 Grey wolf

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This is a bit more reasonable than bears, although they do pose a small risk to people, the main thing that is standing in the way of there reintroduction is farmers concerned about their livestock getting eaten. This could be managed with proper investment in fence infrastructure and subsidy arrangements, but opposition to wild wolves in Scotland remains strong and their reintroduction is unlikely.

 Lynx

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These feline gangsters are probably the most suitable for reintroduction, they grow to about the size of a golden retriever but can take out a fully mature deer with a covert bite to the back of the neck. Its possible a few local pets may go missing which is a concern but the real fear is that one takes a child. While this is feasible it is incredibly unlikely, and this concern for human life would be more appropriately placed in the number of tragic fatalities that happen on our roads every day.

The Lynx has been reintroduced into a number of European countries and is considered to be a success story; It would be great to see wolves reintroduced as well as this has been very successful in other ecosystems (yellow stone park in America) but the Lynx is a good starting point. However we live in an era of political stalemate, the gears of change are slow to turn, we are probably more likely to get a good deal on Brexit than to see large predators roam across our wilderness once more.                                                                                                            

At least we still have Nessie.

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