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Britain's lynx are missing, and they have been for more than a thousand years. Why have they gone? And might they come back? The lynx is one of a range of beasts that have disappeared from Britain since the end of the last ice age.
A mere 15,000 years ago, Britain was a very different place – home to lions, lynx, bears, wolves, bison and many more megafauna. But as the climate changed and human populations expanded, changing habitats and wiping out wildlife, most of the British megafauna disappeared. Will we ever be able to bring these mammals back? And if it's possible, should we?
In The Missing Lynx, palaeontologist Ross Barnett uses case studies, new fossil discoveries, biomolecular evidence and more to paint a picture of these lost species, and to explore the significance of their disappearance in ecological terms. He also discusses how the Britons these animals shared their lives with might have viewed them, and questions why some survived while others vanished.
Barnett also looks in detail at the realistic potential of reintroductions, rewilding and even of resurrection, both in Britain and overseas, from the innovative Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve to the revolutionary Pleistocene Park in Siberia, which has already seen progress in the revival of 'mammoth steppe' grassland.
With the world going through a 'sixth extinction' caused by widespread habitat destruction, climate change and an ever-growing human population, this timely book explores the spaces that extinction has left unfilled, in Britain and elsewhere. By understanding why some of our most charismatic animals are gone, we can look to a brighter future, perhaps with some of these missing beasts returned to the land on which they once lived and died.
Ross Barnett is a palaeontologist who specialises in seeking, analysing and interpreting ancient DNA. His area of true expertise is in the genetics and phylogeny of cats, especially the extinct sabretooths, and he has sequenced the entire genomes of a number of remarkable extinct European big cats. Ross's research has led to some remarkable findings in recent years, including some that have made the national press and have seen the nation stop, think and then say – 'gosh'. For example, he has been involved in working out how the Orkney Vole (which is absent from mainland Britain) got to the islands from continental Europe, and when. An important figure in the online archaeology and palaeontology world, Ross currently resides in the Highlands of Scotland.
"As elegies go, The Missing Lynx is an awful lot of fun."
– Tom Chivers, The Times
"Rewilding is certainly romantic but is it practical or even desirable? It all needs thinking through, and Barnett, who makes a compelling case in favour of the idea, can help."
– Stuart Blackman, BBC Wildlife
"Barnett's writing is clear and unobtrusively witty [...] And the book is full of cheery, Terry Pratchett-esque footnotes. [...] His writing is full of admiration for the resourcefulness of Palaeolithic tribespeople – his descriptions of an Ice Age economy that ran on mammoths, and of the mammoth hunts themselves, are evocative."
– Tom Chivers, The Times
"A wonderful and haunting book: so rich in detail that the mammals of Britain's past seem brought to life again, and yet so unflinching in its portrayal of the brute facts of extinction that readers will ache for all that has been lost."
– Tom Holland, author and historian
"With his fast-paced and amusing tales of some of the most awe-inspiring species lost within geologically recent times, The Missing Lynx brings Britain's Ice Age back to life."
– Professor Beth Shapiro, author of How to Clone a Mammoth
"A fascinating account of the large herbivores and predators that have disappeared from Britain since humans reached our islands. This should be essential reading for those who advocate rewilding."
– Professor Richard Fortey, palaeontologist and author
"The story of Britain's Ice Age bestiary, told with bittersweet humour, and a clarion call to us all to step up and fight future extinctions."
– Dr Victoria Herridge, evolutionary biologist and presenter
"Barnett's writing is clear and accessible, and often amusing."
– Megan Shersby, BBC Wildlife
"The Missing Lynx, with its copious amounts of information about the lives and extinctions of its subject, leavened with sufficiently frequent witticisms, flippant off-hand remarks, and bits of gallows humor to make such serious subjects sufficiently psychologically palatable so as to allow them to sink in to the minds of its readers and be remembered [...] It is most whole-heartedly an enthusiastically recommended to all."
– Johannes E. Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist
"Fresh and assured [...] An often moving tribute to lost marvels."
– Barbara Kiser, Nature 571(7765), July 2019