Conservationists are proposing to release up to 12 Eurasian lynx into two locations in England and Scotland for a trial period of five years.
The lynx will be radio-collared and closely monitored to see what impact they have on local deer populations as well as livestock such as sheep.
The Lynx UK Trust, the organisation behind the project, has a short list of five sites for the two possible release areas: Cumbria, Northumberland and Norfolk in England, and Aberdeenshire and Argyll and Bute in Scotland.
Should the trials go ahead, it will be the first time that lynx have lived in the wild in Britain (discounting unofficial sightings of big cats) since the 6th or 7th centuries AD.
Independent analysis estimated that the presence of lynx in two sites in England (Kielder in Northumberland and Thetford in Norfolk) would be worth £66m in additional tourist expenditure, and create 226 full-time jobs, over a 25-year period.
The same analysis has also assessed the cost of compensating farmers for sheep lost to lynx – it estimated that, over 25 years, 225 sheep would be taken, leaving a bill of just under £19,000.
A recent reintroduction project in Germany, the trust reported, has resulted in very low levels of sheep predation, and compensation costs ranging from €1,016 (£819) in 2011 to €670 (£540) in 2014.
The trust also said that, since fox predation of lambs is likely to be higher than the impact lynx have, and that the presence of lynx could lead to a reduction in fox numbers locally, then “there could be a net positive impact on livestock numbers due to lynx reintroduction.”
A six-week consultation exercise is running until 9 December, after which more detailed local consultations will begin in the selected trial areas. It is hoped that a formal application to release lynx would be made to the statutory agencies some time in 2016.