A small herd of the endangered animal will be released in Kent woodlands to help restore an ancient habitat and its wildlife, conservationists have said.
Funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, the £1 million project to reintroduce the animals will help secure the future of an endangered species and is aimed at helping to manage Blean Woods near Canterbury.
Their habitation will regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off trees thus creating a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life.
The Kent woodlands will be a new home to one male and three female bison in spring 2022.
It is hoped the size of the herd will increase through natural breeding, with one calf per year the norm for each female.
The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe.
Since 1970, populations of Britain’s most important wildlife have declined at an average rate of 60% and Britain is now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, despite the best efforts of conservationists.
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.”
The European bison is the continent’s largest land mammal and adult males can weigh as much as a tonne. The species is known as an “ecosystem engineer” because of its ability to create and improve habitats for other species.
Their ability to fell trees by rubbing up against them, and eating the bark, creates space for a wide range of other species to thrive.
The bison will be accompanied by other grazing animals creating stronger habitats through natural processes that will withstand the current environmental crisis and species decline, and in the long run, reverse it.
The steppe bison is thought to have roamed the UK until about 6,000 years ago, when hunting and changes in habitat led to its global extinction.
The European bison that will be released in Kent is a descendant of this species and its closest living relative.
The project will cover 500 hectares (1,236 acres), with the bison first placed in a 150-hectare area where there are no right-of-way footpaths.
Once the bison are settled, the public will be able to visit the area with rangers and watch the animals from viewing platforms.
“The partners in the Kent project have long dreamed of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long,” said Paul Whitfield, of Wildwood Trust, the native species conservation charity that will ensure the welfare of the bison.
“People will be able to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper way.”
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