They haven’t roamed the country for thousands of years, but bison are poised to return to English woodland as part of a £1m rewilding project in Blean Woods, Kent.
European bison are being used in this project because they are ecosystem engineers, meaning that they are able to change their environment through their natural behaviours. Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can, they eat bark and create dust baths which each have benefits for many plants and animals, these are functions that have been missing from our UK woodlands for thousands of years and bringing them back can help restore an abundance of wildlife.
The bison will be in their new home in south east England by spring 2022, say conservationists. The breed is the closest living relative to the ancient steppe bison and is attributed with engineering woodland habitats for butterflies, beetles and other species by felling trees and disrupting earth.
The animals will be introduced to a 500 hectare (1,200 acre) area in Blean Woods, along with other grazing animals such as Konik ponies. The project is being led by the Kent Wildlife Trust and funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.
“This award means we can now take an important step towards reversing the terrifying rate of species loss in the UK,” said Paul Hadaway, director of conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust. “Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.”