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The Art of the Impossible – White-tailed Eagle and Lynx


Staff member
Mar 19, 2024
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I’m sitting in one of my favourite places in our home; a large upstairs window that looks out over the woods and fields. Below me is a small burn running from the hills on its way to the Moray Firth. It’s twisty and there’s a flooded pool where a clear freshwater spring comes out from under the bank, green with watercress planted long ago by the children of my next-door neighbours. It’s a place where the frogs spawn in the spring, and I’ve noticed over the last few days a grey heron has come to stab away. Earlier this evening it was nice to see three pairs of mallard sail in and start dabbling; a sure sign of approaching spring.

The burn takes a turn on the right under the big bank below a grazing field. Along the bank is a big thicket of bird cherry trees, for when bird cherries are crashed down by heavy snowfall they root and spring upwards in a tangled mass. Today’s fresh fall of snow – although only two inches in depth – has whitened the ground below a solitary beech tree growing in the flat area where I know that soon the daffodils will flower.

A local blackbird flies across the clearing to its night time roost in the dense Douglas firs on the other bank, and the dense thicket, the snowy slope and the eeriness of the evening light suddenly makes me think of lynx. I can imagine one slinking out of the thicket to start its night patrol, placing its paws carefully as it descends the bank before jumping the burn into the Douglas firs. She would already know that sometimes there’s a roe deer hiding there or maybe a couple of brown hares from a grazing field behind the wood. From there she can track up through the fields, into the big larch forest and into a wild country of woods, burns and moorland, with no sign of habitation for six or seven miles. Ideal lynx country despite being so close to the town of Forres in Moray.


Thanks to Stephane Regazzoni – trail camera shot French Jura

Maybe a thousand years ago lynx would have travelled the same road at night before they were all exterminated by man. Now when we talk about having them back people say ‘You’re mad’, ‘There’s no room for them now’, ‘They don’t belong’ and ‘We don’t want you messing about with nature’.

Yet as I watch dusk take over the scene my mind is whizzing south to the Isle of Wight where four years ago my Foundation and the government agency Forestry England started a project to restore the white-tailed eagle to the Isle of Wight, where the species last bred in 1780. People said we were mad, that they would chase away all the wildfowl and waders in the Solent, they would kill the red squirrels, that there’s just no room for them now and then anyway they would kill lambs, in fact they’d be a menace. And, to top it all large eagles will be unable to thrive among the large numbers of people now living in southern England, close to the big cities of Portsmouth and Southampton

How wrong they were. Those eagles which we first released on the Isle of Wight in 2019 followed by more in 2020 and 21 have settled into England as though they had never been away. Most of the time, about 90%, they sit in trees watching what’s going on, and at other times sail on their great wings. I’ll never forget during the Covid lockdowns the number of times that we received a message from someone imprisoned in their garden, unable to go birdwatching in their local gravel pits or along the shore, who had suddenly looked up and seen a huge eagle flying over on its eight-foot wingspan. They had been so excited and staggered, and they said how marvelous to know, despite living in highly populated areas in England, that they could see such wildness return.

It’s now four years since we started the project. In the early years the young ones explored much of England, some going back to Scotland and one even venturing into mainland Europe, as far north as Sweden. As they matured, they came back home. There are now three pairs of the oldest birds setting up home ranges and thinking of breeding. They have seen carrying out their spring display of tandem flying, the two huge birds flying a few metres apart, round and round over their favourite place. Some people have been even luckier to hear them duetting in the early morning with their shrill calls. Will the first pair breed this year? We’ll have to wait and see.

It seems only the other day that people said it was impossible. And yet it’s happened, and there’s great enthusiasm for the return of the sea eagle. People say it encourages optimism for the future and hope that we can keep planet Earth inhabitable.

How easily the same could happen to the lynx. In fact, even more easy because they cannot fly away. The view from my window reminds me of places I’ve been in Norway and Slovakia, in Romania and Switzerland where lynx live in similar places hunting roe deer, just as close to farms and rural houses. They are not seen nor heard by people; the only evidence is in winter when their pad marks show up in the snow. They simply fit in with local communities and their ways of life. My local town, Forres, is twinned with a town in Germany called Viennenberg, in the Harz Mountains where lynx have been successfully reintroduced. We should emulate our twin town.

Once they are back – and I hope that happens in my lifetime – people will ask what was all the fuss about and will, again, appreciate that it is possible to restore wild nature. Although, unlike the eagles, the lynx will be difficult to see in Britain, people will just find their footprints in the snow and know that the ecosystem has become more whole.

The post The Art of the Impossible – White-tailed Eagle and Lynx appeared first on Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.
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