Kielder Forest offers some of the wildest landscapes in all of Britain, a Lord of the Rings-esque tableau of squishy green moss and soaring dark spruce where ospreys rule the skies and badgers, otters and adders skitter through the brambles below.
But it's not wild enough for Paul O'Donoghue. "Too tame," he scoffed.
Imagine, the conservationist suggested, a 30kg cat - its ears tufted, its fur dappled - slinking through the undergrowth, sharpening its knifelike claws on the nearest tree and occasionally darting out to plunge its teeth into the throat of an unsuspecting deer.
"How exciting would that be?" he asked, leaving the unstated answer to hang in the lonely stillness of the summer woods.
For 1300 years, such scenes have been absent from this island, ever since the ancestors of the modern British hunted and killed every last lynx. But now, the wildcat could be poised for a comeback.
Within months, Eurasian lynx could be roaming this land once more thanks to a plan, spearheaded by O'Donoghue, that would mark perhaps the most audacious species reintroduction experiment in the nation's history. Like the return of wolves to Yellowstone in the US, success would offer a potent symbol, amid fears of an unstoppable mass extinction of species worldwide, that the tide can still be turned.
"This project offers a glimmer of hope, and it signals a huge change in our country. We're starting to repopulate Britain with true native species," said O'Donoghue, a 38-year-old PhD in conservation genetics. "The lynx could become ambassadors of British conservation."
But to others in this undulating stretch of expansive green fields, ancient stone walls and lush coniferous forests along the Scottish-English border, the symbolism counts for little. For farmers, the lynx represents little more than a pesky pest that will feast on the animal that sustains much of the local economy: sheep.
"When I first heard about it, I thought, 'This must be the craziest idea anyone's ever had'," said Dennis Salt, 61, who owns a 222ha sheep farm abutting Kielder, the forest into which the lynx would be released.
And nothing he's learned in the two years since the proposal was introduced has changed his mind. Scientists may insist that the forest-dwelling lynx are poorly suited to prey on sheep in an open field. But Salt said he doesn't buy it.
"Sheep are extremely slow. If a lynx has the option of going after a lamb or a deer, it will go for the easy meal. There's no two ways about it."
The issue has sparked passionate debate in this rural community, torn between the lure of restoring a vital element of the British countryside as it existed long before sheep held sway, and the fear that doing so could jeopardise livelihoods. The question could soon come to a head. Last week, O'Donoghue's group, the Lynx UK Trust, submitted an application to Natural England, the government body that regulates species reintroductions, to release six Eurasian lynx into Kielder Forest. A decision could come within the next several months.
If the proposal is approved, four female and two male lynx would be rounded up in Sweden - where a wild population thrives - and flown to Britain. Fitted with GPS collars, their movements would be monitored for the next five years, during which time the population could naturally grow. "We want them to breed," O'Donoghue said. "Those babies will be proper British lynx - not lynx with a Swedish accent."
It's been more than a millennium since the world has known a proper British lynx. The animal was once prevalent from the northernmost tip of Scotland to the southern coast of England, but relentless hunting by chilly medieval Britons seeking to envelop themselves in the warmth of a lynx pelt doomed the species. "We killed every last one of them, which is an embarrassing and shameful thing to do," O'Donoghue said. "We now have a moral obligation to bring them back."
It's only in recent decades that Britain has begun to reverse a biodiversity decline that was centuries in the making. Bustards were gone for 185 years, and beavers had disappeared for 400. Now they both thrive. Species of cranes, kites and eagles have been brought back from the brink. Some even advocate the return of wolves and bears, though not any time soon.
It's a story that's been repeated across Europe, North America and other affluent regions, said Chris Thomas, a biology professor at the University of York. "The emphasis has shifted. Conservation has the upper hand in the wealthy parts of the world. There's a move towards greater acceptance of living with big, wild animals."
The phenomenon, he said, offers some hope that species being hunted to the edge of extinction in less developed parts of the world may be spared if living standards rise and human populations stabilise.
The lynx would be the top cat in the British wilderness. Size-wise it would eclipse other land-based carnivores, including the badger, the Scottish wildcat and the fox. The potential downsides are minimal, Thomas said. A lynx may kill the occasional sheep, but nothing compared with the vast numbers lost annually to disease, malnutrition and exposure.