50 for the Future – return lynx to Scotland’s landscapes

Our recent publication, 50 for the Future, lists 50 things that we believe should happen in Scotland over the next 50 years to benefit both people and wildlife. In this week’s 50 for the Future article, award-winning wildlife cameraman, presenter and Scottish Wildlife Trust Ambassador, Gordon Buchanan, describes his desire to see lynx return to the wild landscapes of Scotland.


Number 2: Return lynx to Scotland’s landscapes for the first time in over a thousand years


Once my time machine is up and running, I know exactly where and when I’ll go. But until then, I’ll have to be content with imagining the land that is now Scotland at a time when the first hunter-gatherers lived in relative harmony with the birds, the bees and all the beasts, eking an existence in the forests that covered the land.

As fanciful as it sounds, I do spend an inordinate amount of time dreaming of what it would be like to visit familiar places thousands of years ago to see what nature intended for them: places from my childhood, where I went to school and where I now live. Who lived there? What grew there? Which animals trotted, flew or prowled there? The land has a past, most of it unknown and unrecorded, but when did the last lynx pad unseen along what is now the street where I live?

Lynx © Petr Kratochvil
Eurasian lynx have been extinct in Scotland for over a thousand years. © Petr Kratochvil

I’ve been lucky enough to see a lynx in the wild on two occasions, once in Russia and then some years later on the US/Canadian border. The first was a blur crossing a track in a single bound, the second took an unconcerned stroll through a clearing in the woods that had become my camp.

How life must have been for the lynx, this triumph of evolution when it roamed a Scotland that was truly wild itself – rugged, wooded and full of food. I would love to be able to observe how those newly-arrived humans, people whose genes may very well faintly linger on in us, interacted with their natural surroundings. Exactly how they lived we’ll never know, but we can say with near certainty that they had a respect for nature. In the mists of time we humans knew nature, nature meant life, an opportunity to survive and at times thrive as part of it. Nature in all its forms was an asset, not an enemy, not something to be conquered and defeated but a force that permitted our existence.

Unfortunately that is not the case today and nature has become fragile. To many, the wild seems a luxury with little relevance in the present and no firm place in the future. Our existence, as it always has been, is founded in the natural world and we need it now more than ever. More broken than nature is our relationship with it. So much needs fixing.

Fragile as it is, however, nature can be resilient. Sometimes all that’s needed is a gentle nudge or the right conditions for long-dormant cogs to turn once more and for nature to flourish. Of course, steps must be taken at a sensible pace and the right things must be done at the right time. In the case of lynx reintroduction, I fully believe that that time has come.

Lynx play an important functional role as a predator within an ecosystem. © dogrando (CC BY-SA 2.0)

We could argue the points of bringing back this particular lost species over and over again, the pros and cons, the benefits and possible disadvantages, the hopes and the fears. Those debates must be had, but soon afterwards the focus should move from talk to action. In life, one certainty is uncertainty, but that should not deter us from being decisive. In the right places, the wild needs to be repaired and restored. Across history, incredible things have risen from bold decisions. Across history, nature has inspired us and we should allow it to continue to do so.

Stepping into a fully functional time machine and setting the clock 50 years from now, the future I’d find is hard to predict. But in the case of lynx in Scotland there could be two possibilities: one is where nothing is done and today’s arguments are 50 years old; the other is where lynx roam Scotland’s wild regions once more. The latter is the future I dream of and hope for, a Scotland where everyone could walk through healthy, flourishing forests in the knowledge that these incredible cats were again an integral part of our native fauna. People would see that the bold decisions that were made were sound, sensible steps towards righting wrongs of the past, helping solve problems of the present and avoiding those of the future.

Further information on lynx reintroduction can be found in these Trust policy publications:

Let us know your thoughts by emailing thefuture@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk or Tweet @ScotWildlife using #50fortheFuture.

Gordon Buchanan is an award-winning wildlife cameraman, presenter and public speaker. He has been an Ambassador for the Scottish Wildlife Trust for the last 2 years.



Banner image © Pete Cairns

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In this week's 50 for the Future article, award-winning wildlife cameraman, presenter and Scottish Wildlife Trust Ambassador, Gordon Buchanan, describes his desire to see lynx return to the wild landscapes of Scotland.

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