The gentle giants released in Kent yesterday should transform a commercial pine forest into a vibrant natural woodland.
Early on Monday morning, three female and one male bison wandered out of a corral in the Kent countryside, in south east England, to become the first wild bison to roam in Britain for thousands of years.
The aim is for the animals’ natural behaviour to transform a dense commercial pine forest into a vibrant natural woodland. Their taste for bark will kill some trees and their bulk will open up trails, letting light spill on to the forest floor, while their love of rolling around in dust baths will create more open ground. All this should allow new plants, insects, lizards, birds and bats to thrive.
The Wilder Blean project, near Canterbury, is an experiment to see how well the bison can act as natural “ecosystem engineers” and restore wildlife. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
A more natural woodland should also absorb more carbon, helping to tackle the climate crisis. Global heating was evident as the bison were released, with England in the grip of a heatwave, and the early timing was to allow the bison to reach the shade of the woods before temperatures started to climb.
“The restoration of naturally functioning ecosystems is a vital and inexpensive tool in tackling the climate crisis,” said Evan Bowen-Jones, CEO at Kent Wildlife Trust. “We want Wilder Blean to mark the beginning of a new era for conservation in the UK. We need to revolutionise the way we restore natural landscapes, relying less on human intervention and more on natural engineers like bison, boar and beaver.”
The rangers expect the bison to breed, with females producing one calf a year, and the Wilder Blean site is licensed for up to 10 animals. In future, they hope to provide bison to found other sites in the UK, as well as exchanging animals across Europe.