LYNXES could be making a return to Britain, 1,300 years after they became extinct.
The Lynx UK trust has requested permission to introduce up to six of the big cats to the Kielder Forest in Northumberland.
They said the animals, which can grow to 1.3m in length, "belong" in Britain and there was a "moral obligation" to bring them back.
The big cats, which will be taken from Sweden, would be the latest in a series of reintroduction projects for the predator, which have re-established populations from Spain to the Alps.
The scheme would initially involve six lynx, four females and two males, being imported from Sweden and fitted with GPS tracking collars for a five-year trial.
The trust applied to Natural England for permission to release the cats after it carried out a 20-month consultation of locals and wildlife organisations.
No date has been set for the proposed reintroduction but they cats could return to the UK by the end of 2017 if the plans are approved.
As well as hunting, it is believed that the lynx suffered because of habitat loss. In the past century, with reforestation in Scotland and northern England, this has been partly restored.
Conservationists estimate a population of 400 lynxes could be supported, and find a useful role helping keep the growing deer herds in check.
The trust said in a statement: "In many other countries Eurasian lynx reintroduction has proven exceptionally low-conflict and wonderfully beneficial for the local communities that live alongside them, and we do sincerely hope that these cats, which thrived here for millions of years, do have the opportunity to prove they can still fit into both our ecology, and alongside local communities like those across the Kielder region."
The group chose the forest for the trial due to its large size, few roads, and abundance of deer, the lynx's favourite prey.
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But some sheep farmers have expressed alarm.
Alison Waugh said: "[The] strong belief here is that none of us have seen a sheep outrun a deer yet.
"I'm not sure our resources should be focused on reintroducing a species that no longer fits in this landscape. Rather, focus on conserving that which we still have."
Phil Stocker, of the National Sheep Association, said: "The species has been absent from the UK for thousands of years, and our countryside now is far too fragmented and built up to support a viable population of lynx."
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