On Monday morning, three bison were released in rural Kent, Britain. They are the first wild bison to roam Britain in thousands of years. The goal is for the animals’ natural behavior to turn a dense pine forest into a vibrant natural forest.
Its bark taste will kill some of the trees in the pine forest and its size will open up walkways, allowing light to fall onto the forest floor. Their tendency to roll in dust baths will also allow for more open ground. All of this should allow new plants, insects, lizards, birds and bats to thrive. The Wilder Blean Project is an experiment to see how bison can act as “natural engineers of the ecosystem” and restore wildlife. The United Kingdom is one of the poorest natural countries in the world.
The European bison is the largest land animal on the continent and became extinct in the wild a century ago. But due to reintroduction projects across Europe, the gentle giants are on the rise. “Restoring naturally functioning ecosystems is a vital and inexpensive way to tackle the climate crisis,” said Evan Boyne Jones, CEO of the Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT). “We want the Wilder Blean to be the start of a new era of conservation in the UK. We need to rely less on human intervention and more on natural engineers like bison, wild boars and beavers.”
“We are giving people in the UK the opportunity to experience bison in the wild for the first time in over a thousand years,” said Paul Whitfield, Director of the Wildwood Trust. “It’s a really powerful emotional experience and it’s something we’ve lost in this country.”
The three bison are an older female from Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland who will be the mother of the herd, as well as two young girls from Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, Ireland. “We couldn’t have asked for a better mother,” said Donovan Wright, one of two new buffalo keepers working on the project. “She’s so calm, she’s so self-confident.” The rangers spent some time on the Kraansvlak project in the Netherlands, where you can actually walk through an area occupied by 14 bison. There has never been a serious accident.
Britain’s exit from the European Union
In mid-August, a small bull from Germany will be added, the arrival of which was delayed due to import problems due to Brexit. The three females were given collars on Sunday, which the team can use to map the animals’ movements. Initially the female will have a double fenced area of five acres to explore, but this will increase to 50 acres when the bull arrives. Eventually, the animals will be able to reach 200 hectares. The team said that visitors to Blean Woods may be able to peek at bison from the tracks.
Bison-sized tunnels are also being built to allow the animals to safely cross existing walking paths. It is surrounded by two gates, one of which is electric. In other British game reserves, bison are found in smaller areas and are additionally fed.
The bison will soon join other grazing animals, including ponies, Iron Age pigs and longhorn cattle, whose natural behavior complements the bison in landscape management. Its long-term effect will be closely monitored. This includes taking soil samples, counting worms, examining the structure of vegetation, and observing invertebrates, birds and mammals.
Keepers expect the bison to breed and the females to produce one calf per year. The Wilder Blean is licensed for up to 10 animals. In the future they hope to be able to provide oxen to establish other areas in the UK and to exchange the animals across Europe. All 7,000 bison living in Europe are descended from just 12 animals in the zoo. The species is still classified as vulnerable, so maximizing genetic diversity is very important.
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