Sheep farmers have raised concerns about proposals to reintroduce the lynx, which became extinct in the UK more than 1300 years ago.
The Lynx UK Trust last year launched a consultation for farmers and landowners on a trial reintroduction of the cat at several sites in the UK, including Northumberland, Cumbria, Aberdeenshire, Argyll and Norfolk.
The trust suggested the Eurasian lynx’s return in just two areas would deliver net benefits of £68 million over 25 years, boosting eco-tourism, keeping down deer and improving crop yields, wildlife and forestry.
It claimed there would be minimal negative impact on farming, as lynx prefer to hunt deer rather than livestock or domestic pets.
But the National Sheep Association has raised concerns that it would jeopardise the “already fragile state” of the sheep farming industry.
Lynx were unpredictable in their hunting and while there was likely to be low levels of sheep kills in areas where deer numbers were high, any premature death was unacceptable to farmers, it said.
The presence of lynx could pose a welfare issue to livestock.
Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, pointed to the similarities with dog attacks.
“Attacks by dog cause sheep to miscarry their unborn lambs, to be separated from baby lambs once they are born, and to fail to thrive due to high levels of stress,” he said. “It would be the same with the lynx.
“Poorer animal welfare is just one of many problems lynx would create if they were introduced.
“Decision-makers must consider this, along with other, wider consequences and seriously consider the detail, not just be taken in by the general appeal of having a big cat in our countryside.”