CAMPAIGNERS hoping to re-introduce the Eurasian Lynx to some of Scotland’s most scenic areas 1300 years after it became extinct here have published a consultation paper.

Lynx UK Trust aims to bring the predator back to areas of Argyll and Inverness-shire.

The organisation has proposed an area of 10,000 square miles for a pilot re-introduction, stretching from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs into the West Highlands.

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It claims this space could be home to around 250 lynx.

The trust hopes the move will help Scotland’s ecology, tackling the devastation caused by huge increases in deer and pine marten populations in recent years.

Dr Paul O’Donoghue of the trust says the ever-rising deer numbers are damaging forest habitats and holding back regeneration efforts, while pine martens are causing a rapid decline in the number of capercaillie.

Research published by Scottish Natural Heritage last month revealed the woodland grouse is under threat, with numbers dropping to just 1114. This compares to 1285 recorded in the last national survey of the species six years ago.

O’Donoghue claims lynx would help control the behaviour of the deer, forcing them to spread out their browsing sustainably by keeping herds moving through the forest. The wildcat would also force pine martens off the forest floor, and away from the nests and eggs of capercaillies.

O’Donoghue said: “This is a classic example of the negative impacts that come with removing species like the lynx from an ecosystem.”

A similar plan in Northumberland, England had some mixed reactions and was eventually scrapped as many farmers, who were backed by their Conservative MP, Guy Opperman, were concerned the wildcats would kill livestock in the area. There have been similar concerns about livestock in Scotland, but O’Donoghue argues that, on average across Europe, lynx kill just 0.4 sheep per predator per year.

He said: “We strongly believe that lynx will lead to a decrease in sheep predation because they predate on foxes but seldom on sheep themselves.”

The plan also has support from locals including Ewen Maclean, whose family owns and manages the Ardgour estate near Fort William, covering 30,000 acres on the western edge of the potential lynx habitat.

Maclean said: “We’re very supportive of any effort to rebalance the natural environment. I think this is something that can bring a huge benefit to our forests and add to the fantastic eco-tourism offering already in the region.”

Over the last 15 years a separate Spanish lynx breeding programme has had great success, almost trebling the numbers and bringing the animal from near extinction.