Could we live with reintroduced large carnivores in the UK?



1. Literature on the wolf Canis lupus, brown bear Ursus arctos and lynx Lynx lynx is reviewed to determine if sufficient semi-natural habitat exists in the UK for a viable population of any of these species and to assess the potential risks to human safety, livestock and economically valuable wildlife. Public attitudes to the recovery and reintroduction of some other mammals are also briefly reviewed.

2. The large home range sizes and low population densities of large carnivores mean that the Scottish Highlands is the only UK region with the potential to support a viable population. Human population density is also lower in the Highlands and the density of wild ungulate prey higher than in many parts of Europe where large carnivores survive.

3. Attacks on people have been recorded in Europe for healthy bears and for rabid bears and wolves but there are no reports of attacks by lynx. Bears are more carnivorous in the north of their range than in the south and although wild mammals seldom appear to be important prey serious predation of livestock can occur. Livestock predation is also reported for the wolf and the lynx but they appear to prefer wild prey if available. However, mass kills of up to 100 or more sheep are occasionally recorded for wolves.

4. Attitudes to reintroductions and carnivores generally tend to be favourable amongst the general public, but negative amongst those most likely to be adversely affected. Fears for human safety and significant livestock predation with bears and wolves, respectively, suggest that reintroduction of these species is unlikely to be acceptable in the foreseeable future. Reintroduction of the lynx may be feasible but habitat suitability and potential impact on vulnerable native wildlife need to be assessed. Socio-economic and legal issues also need to be addressed before such a reintroduction is considered.