Bison to be reintroduced to Britain's woodland for the first time in thousands of years

Ellen Manning
·3 min read
EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY JULY 10  ONE USE ONLY FOR USE ONLY IN CONNECTION WITH PA STORY ENVIRONMENT BISON Undated handout photo issued by Evan Bowen-Jones/Kent Wildlife Trust showing bison from the Maasthorst nature reserve in the Netherlands. Bison are being introduced to a British woodland in a project project led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust to restore ancient habitat and its wildlife, conservationists said.PA Photo. Issue date: Thursday July 9, 2020. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Bison. Photo credit should read: Evan Bowen-Jones/Kent Wildlife Trust/PA Wire  NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
A new project will see bison introduced to woodland in Kent for the first time in centuries (Kent Wildlife Trust/PA)

Bison could be seen in British woodland for the first time in thousands of years thanks to a project to restore an ancient habitat and its wildlife.

Four European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal, are being introduced into a nature reserve in Kent as part of a plan to help wildlife in the UK.

The introduction of the herd is part of a £1 million project led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust to help manage Blean Woods near Canterbury.

Earlier this month, the Woodland Trust warned that a huge increase in litter and fly-tipping in woodlands during lockdown is harming the countryside and putting nature at risk.

The herd of four bison will be in an enclosure near Canterbury, Kent, away from footpaths. (Kent Wildlife Trust/PA)
The herd of four bison will be in an enclosure near Canterbury, Kent, away from footpaths. (Kent Wildlife Trust/PA)

European bison are the closest living relative to ancient steppe bison that would have once roamed Britain and naturally managed the habitat, conservationists say.

The creatures fell trees by rubbing up against them and eat bark, creating areas of space and light in the woods and providing deadwood which helps other plants and animals.

Read more: 'Life in lockdown' photo series shows thriving wildlife during coronavirus pandemic

Kent Wildlife Trust said patches of bare earth creating by the animals “dust bathing” would encourage lizards, burrowing wasps and rare arable weeds, while bark stripping would create standing deadwood that benefits fungi and insects such as stag beetles.

More light to the woodland floor helps plants such as cow wheat, which the heath fritillary – a rare butterfly found in Blean – depends on.

The arrival of the bison is part of a project led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust to restore ancient habitat and its wildlife. (PA)
The arrival of the bison is part of a project led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust to restore ancient habitat and its wildlife. (PA)

The herd will be introduced into a fenced enclosure away from public footpaths but will be within a wider 500 hectare (1,200 acre) area, which will also use other grazing animals such as Konik ponies to help stimulate wildlife.

The project is funded by £1,125,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.

EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY JULY 10 ONE USE ONLY FOR USE ONLY IN CONNECTION WITH PA STORY ENVIRONMENT BISON Undated handout photo issued by Ray Lewis/Kent Wildlife Trust showing Blean Woods where Bison are being introduced to a British woodland in a project project led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust to restore ancient habitat and its wildlife, conservationists said.
Blean Woods near Canterbury, Kent, where the bison are being reintroduced. (Kent Wildlife Trust/PA)

The overall project will be managed by Kent Wildlife Trust, which owns several woods in the Blean area, one of the largest areas of surviving ancient woodland in England, while Wildwood Trust, a native species conservation charity, will be looking after the animals and ensuring their welfare.

Paul Hadaway, director of Conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust said: “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.”

Paul Whitfield, director general of Wildwood Trust said: “The partners in this project have long dreamt of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long.

“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.”

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