Sunday, 18 November 2012

The missing lynx?

I love my job: it’s the variety. Some of today was spent with a heavy cleaver in one hand and a bloody carcass in the other. We wanted to see the blade splitting the haunch of venison but in an acceptable way for BBC1 Sunday evening viewers who don’t want their appetite for bare flesh on ‘Strictly…’ to be spoiled by blood on Countryfile.  This meant manoeuvring the meat around to avoid pipes, fur and dribbly bits, more like the butcher and less like the abattoir.

This decorum may be lost on the diners but they still like their food presented with a bit of theatre. Their current favourite is pheasant hanging from a branch by its neck with a piece of string. They have to jump for it. No, Heston Blumenthal hasn’t hijacked the serving suggestions on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ this is dinner time for four European Lynx at the Cairngorm Wildlife Park.  Very groovy cats which, if some conservationists get their way, could soon be roaming wild in Scotland.

Lynx were once native in Britain but disappeared between the Dark and Middle ages – more than five hundred years ago. The idea now is to bring them back for their own sake but also to keep down deer numbers which are so high they’re holding back forest regeneration by nibbling the saplings. Species re-introduction has been popular of late - sea eagles, beavers and red kites - but a formidable predator…that’s a tough one. I remember doing a story on Radio Scotland nearly 20 years ago about plans to allow wolves to prowl the glens once again. Like a true stirring hack I went straight to the pages of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to find the passage describing the wolf pack attacking the horse-drawn carriage. When it comes to hunters, it’s easy to fan the flames of fear. Yet in truth there is not a single record throughout the world of a lynx killing a human. In the wild they are far more afraid of us.   

Farm animals though could be hunted and many stockmen fear lamb and veal would be on the menu. Why chase a fit and wary roe deer when a field of dozy sheep graze nearby? A convincing argument, but here’s another one. We encourage conservation of endangered species in other countries and frequently say their farmers shouldn’t shoot the elephant that tramples their crop or hunt the tiger that killed their brother. How can we lecture them if we won’t accommodate our own ambush predators?

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