It’s been thousands of years since wild bison roamed the United Kingdom, but they’ll be returning to the British woodlands within the next two years, thanks to an initiative that’s aiming to use the giant beasts to revive the local ecosystem.
Spearheaded by two conservation organizations – Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust – and funded by a grant from the People’s Postcode Lottery, the £1.125 million Wilder Blean project will introduce European bison into the Blean Woods in Kent, near Canterbury. Bison use their size – some weigh as much as a tonne – to remove the odd tree, rubbing up against it, knocking it down, and/or eating the bark, which opens up the land so other species can thrive. It’s the trusts’ hope that the animals will use their instincts as “ecosystem engineers” to generate a stronger, more biodiverse habitat.
Kent Wildlife Trust’s director of conservation, Paul Hadaway, calls the project “an important step towards reversing the terrifying rate of species loss in the UK,” saying in a press release, “The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, nature-based solution is the right one to tackling the climate and nature crisis we now face. Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.”
According to a report in the Guardian, one male and three female bison from the Netherlands or Poland will be released initially, and from there, nature will take its course, with one calf expected per year per female. The bison will fend for themselves for food and shelter, and their health will be monitored from afar.
“The partners in this project have long dreamt of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long,” Wildwood Trust director general Paul Whitfield said in a press release. “This will allow people to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper and more meaningful way. It will inspire people and demonstrate to policy makers that nature presents the answer to the crisis we face. It will empower them to make a difference and it will prove that there is a way to make things better in these challenging times.”
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