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Big cats could keep deer numbers down

PUBLISHED: 08:54 17 February 2009 | UPDATED: 22:31 05 July 2010

BIG cats could safely be introduced into the Suffolk countryside to help bring a booming deer population under control, conservation experts claim.

The rise in deer numbers in Suffolk and Norfolk has caused some landowners to call for an increase in culling levels because of the damage they do to forest trees, crops and birds which nest at ground level.

BIG cats could safely be introduced into the Suffolk countryside to help bring a booming deer population under control, conservation experts claim.

The rise in deer numbers in Suffolk and Norfolk has caused some landowners to call for an increase in culling levels because of the damage they do to forest trees, crops and birds which nest at ground level.

Hundreds of deer are expected to be killed this year to bring the county's deer population under control.

But rather than simply shooting deer, one leading conservation group has suggested releasing wild cats instead.

Professor David Macdonald, director of Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, said wild predators such as lynx could be used to keep numbers down.

Prof Macdonald said there were no recorded cases of a lynx being a danger to people and he described them as the most practical candidates for reintroduction into the UK.

He added that a few sheep would be probably also be killed but experience on the continent shows that livestock losses are “manageable”.

But despite deer numbers on the Suffolk-Norfolk border now estimated to exceed 12,000 and calls for a cull from farmers, forestry authorities, conservationists and road safety groups, the idea of letting lynx imported from eastern Europe loose in East Anglia is not the answer according to some.

Landowners in East Anglia said they were worried that lynx might also target farmed animals such as sheep and lambs rather than chase wild deer.

Charles Wilson, spokesman for Natural England, which issue licences for wild animals being reintroduced, said any scheme involving lynx would have to be very carefully considered.

“There are risks not only to livestock but also to native wildlife as well,” said Mr Wilson.

“There is a strict list of criteria that have to be met - and while some species like wolves have been re-introduced in Scotland it has been in an area that is fenced.

“Lynx are also territorial and you would need some pretty large home ranges for them - if you are going to introduce up to 100 animals which is what would be needed, then only a vast tract of land would be suitable.”

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