Ben HaywardJuly 9th
2020

Wild bison are making their return to the UK for the first time in 6,000 years as part of a conservation project to restore natural biodiversity to the UK. 

The release of a small herd of the animals is planned to take place in spring 2022 as part of the Wilder Blean project in Kent, which is aiming to create a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.

Transported to the UK from successful projects in the Netherlands and Poland, one male and three females will be set free, with natural breeding at the rate of one calf per year the usual for each female.

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Populations of the UK’s most important wildlife have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970, leaving it as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

Paul Hadaway, from Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, nature-based solution is the right one to tackle 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.”

Bison improve biodiversity through process called ‘ecosystem engineering’. 

The animals kill selected trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter coats, creating a feast of dead wood for insects, which in turn provides food for birds as well as creating sunny clearings where native plants can thrive. 

The Steppes bison is last believed to have roamed the UK around 6,000 years ago, when hunting and changes in habitat led to its global extinction, however the European bison bound for Kent is the closest living relative of the species.

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Funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, the project will cover 500 hectares in total, with the bison first placed in a 150-hectare area with no access to humans and cattle fencing in place to prevent them from wandering further afield.

However, once the herd is settled, the public will be able to visit the area with rangers and watch the animals from viewing platforms where they’ll co-exist alongside free-living longhorn cattle, ‘iron age’ pigs, and Exmoor ponies.

The bison will not be given any food or artificial shelters, however experts will monitor their health throughout the year, with the plan to move the animals to other projects in the UK as the herd grows.

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Rebecca Wrigley of Rewilding Britain, said: “This initiative could be good news for Britain’s battered biodiversity. It’s increasingly clear that bold and imaginative rewilding is urgently needed to tackle the country’s worrying loss of wildlife.” 

She said far more needed to be done across the UK to reintroduce large herbivores and “unleash their biodiversity-boosting rewilding magic”.

Stan Smith, of Kent Wildlife Trust said: “Sometimes in the rewilding debate people think that it’s a look back to the past, but that’s not what we’re about. We’re about trying to find the right natural solution for the modern world.”

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