Wild animals such as elk, lynx and beaver could be reintroduced into England under government plans to “rewild” parts of the countryside.

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn hopes the scheme, to be announced at the Labour conference in Brighton today, will revive species and landscapes destroyed by deforestation and the expansion of agriculture.

Under the plans, large, wild reserves would be created across England, connected together so animals could roam freely.

It is hoped the system would prove more effective than current schemes, which see small populations of animals living in small, unconnected reserves.

Keith Kirby, Natural England chief woodland conservation office, said the most obvious areas for the reserves were Exmoor, Dartmoor, Northumberland and the Lake District.

Initially herbivores such as elk, wild cattle, wild boar and Exmoor ponies would be introduced into habitats, Mr Kirby told The Times.

But in the long term, predatory species such as lynx could also be introduced.

Mr Kirby claimed northern England could support a population of about 500 of the wild cats if dense forest was restored in some areas.

The plans follow smaller schemes to reintroduce animals such as beavers and buzzards back into the country.

Last week Natural England said it was looking at the possibility of releasing sea eagles into East Anglia.

The birds have already been released in the west coast of Scotland, where they caused controversy after farmers claimed they were killing lambs.