Report from George Markie
Country guerrillas unleash the lynx weapon
By Stephen Khan, Scotland Editor in the Observer Sunday February 17, 2002
As hunters vow to battle ban, one group says it has released big cats into wild to curb fox numbers.
Any urban foxes contemplating retiring to the country on the basis that the redcoats are in retreat would be well advised to reconsider. An older foe, the European lynx, is back on the scene.
After dealing with the rowdy orange boilersuit brigade in the capital, Lothian and Borders Police officers have had to check out a number of claims that a dozen big cats of a species lost to Scotland in the sixteenth century were being released around the country.
On Tuesday, before the passing of the Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill, a message was forwarded to the police which read: 'In four different locations one male and two female lynx will be released if the Scottish Parliament banishes fox hunting by passing the Bill devised and promoted by Lord Watson of Invergowrie, now a Minister in the Scottish Executive.'
The shadowy group of animal activists call themselves 'Rural Guerrillas' and, unlike their comrades, the Rural Rebels, said they were not really too bothered about hunting.
The Muddle On The Mound merely provided them with the ideal opportunity to bring their favourite big cat - the fox's only natural predator - back to Scotland.
One member of the Borders-based brigade said: 'We realised that going through official procedures would take 40 years of consultations with the probability the farming lobbies would block any introduction. The likelihood of the MSPs abolishing fox hunting gives us a perfect pretext. The MSPs seem to know little about foxes. Our feeling remains this is very much based on class grudge.'
By yesterday they claimed that the releases had gone ahead as planned and that the lynx were roaming around Craik Forest in the Borders, Glentrool in Galloway, Ard tornish in Inverness-shire and Balnagowan in Ross-shire, where the guerrillas had named a pair Neil and Christine after the Hamiltons. The Balnagowan Estate is owned by Mohamed al-Fayed.
The officers of the Lothian and Borders force remain vigilant, if unconvinced.
'We are aware of this threat, but have found no evidence of a release,' a spokeswoman said. 'However, if we were to discover that such animals had been released it would constitute a criminal offence.'
People should not fear for their own or their livestock's safety, she added. 'If lynx have been freed, they could themselves be at risk. They could well be hit by cars or even shot.'
Pointy yellow ears, then, do not seem to be as significant a danger to the fox as red jackets and black hats; hunters are determined to argue that spoiling their fun contravenes human rights legislation.
Simon Hart of the Countryside Alliance is convinced any challenge would have a strong case, thanks to past European rulings and debates on the issue in the House of Commons.
Two years ago a Westminster watchdog warned the Government that it would be at 'significant risk' of breaching human rights law by banning fox hunting: 'The risk derives from the absence of provisions for compensating those who lose income or land value as a result of losing the right to hunt either generally or their own land, and who suffer an interference with their freedom to enjoy their own land for hunting non-commercially.'
Any cash or compensation deal could wreck the landowners' chances of harpooning the Act in the courts - a fact that the rural Tories who voted against the Act and against compensation were well aware of. However, the European dimension could offer more solid grounds.
Victories have been recorded in Strasbourg by landowners on the Continent against state attempts to introduce compulsory purchase orders.
However, Christopher Gane, professor of law at Aberdeen University, is sceptical about the hunters' chances: 'Much of this argument seems to be about property rights, but I think this is rather tenuous.
'The legislation does not prevent people riding or keeping animals or even hunting foxes. It just restricts any hunt involving certain creatures. This is a long way from saying property has been interfered with.'
Others suggest that Article 8 of the European Convention could also provide a defence. 'Article 8 is about the rights of people to have privacy to lead the lifestyle of their choosing and would seem to me to largely protect people's right with regard to sexual orientation,' Gane said.
'I'm not sure it could help protect people's perceived right to dress up and charge about after foxes.'
So, should the fox steer clear of rebel huntsmen in coming weeks, in time it could find the lynx does pose a greater threat than the hound.
And as one Rural Guerrilla pointed out, it would not be the new arrival's only quarry. 'Lynx enjoy the odd deer for breakfast, but Scotland needs a natural culling device.'
The Observer, Sunday February 17, 2002
|Return to index
|Return to Scottish Big Cats
|Return to Scotland