PLANS to introduce big cats back to the Borders have taken a giant stride forward.
Just over a year ago the Lynx UK Trust announced their plans to explore the possibility of bringing the Eurasian lynx back into the British ecosystem.
An international team of experts has spent the last year detailing an approach to a reintroduction, consulting with national stakeholders, studying potential release sites, and consulting with local communities and businesses.
And they believe the best place for the introduction will be a cross-border area which takes in Kielder and the southern Scottish Borders.
Their findings have been extensively recorded and submitted this week to the statutory agency responsible for licensing species reintroductions in England - Natural England.
Whilst any releases would take place in England, the lynx is likely cross the border into Scotland and, as such, Scottish Natural Heritage are also remaining fully informed of all details of the application.
The chief scientific advisor on the project, Dr Paul O'Donoghue, told the Border Telegraph: “It's incredibly exciting to see it all come together after an intense couple of years.
"Tens of thousands of man hours of work by a huge team of people have gone into consultations shaping this final application which marks a significant milestone in the history of UK conservation - potentially the first return of an extinct predator, which could prove to be a really keystone species for our ecosystem.
“And the Lynx can bring huge benefits to the Kielder region - we could see a wave of economic regeneration as it becomes known as the kingdom of the lynx; a unique eco-tourism destination right in the middle of Britain.
"We've had a lot of positive feedback from local businesses and it would be amazing to work with them developing that, from the Angler's Arms pub in Kielder Village, already sporting a life-size replica lynx above the bar, to all kinds of new guest houses, guided walks and wildlife watching activities creating new jobs in the area."
Likely wiped out by fur-hunting helped by loss of habitat about 1,300 years ago, the absence of the medium-sized cats has contributed to an over-population of their favourite prey, roe deer.
Currently estimated at double the sustainable population size, the UK's deer species are damaging the UK's native forest ecosystem causing problems all the way down the food chain.
Lynx have a shy and secretive nature that makes them a perfect reintroduction candidate.
No attacks on humans have ever been recorded by a healthy, wild Eurasian lynx anywhere in the world.
They have a very low impact on livestock with lynx in Europe killing, on average, less than one sheep every two years. The charismatic cats can also be major drivers of rural economies with the potential to brings tens of millions of pounds of tourism money into the Kielder region.
Dr O'Donoghue added: "We've now reached a point where we feel every piece of research has been done, every concern that can be raised has been raised, and the only way to move truly forward is with an intensively monitored trial reintroduction of a small number of cats.
"That can tell us exactly how suitable the lynx would be for a larger reintroduction. We very much hope the lynx has the opportunity to prove it can bring so much to the local community and the UK as a whole.”
If permission is given, six Eurasian lynx - four females and two males - will be reintroduced in the Kielder Forest region for a five year period wearing satellite collars to monitor their movements.
The cats will come from healthy wild populations in Europe and be subject to full veterinary screening.
The lynx would be intently studied over a five year period amassing information that could indicate whether a full reintroduction can be carried out with more individuals across a wider area - much of Scotland has often been highlighted as having a huge potential for lynx habitat.
The Trust will now wait on a response from Natural England.