The first wild bison to roam in Britain in thousands of years, three gentle giants escaped from a corral early on Monday morning in the Kent countryside.
A dense commercial pine forest is intended to be transformed into a thriving natural woodland by the animals’ natural behavior. Their enjoyment of rolling around in dust baths will make more open ground while their hunger for bark will kill some trees and their bulk will open up paths, letting light stream onto the forest floor. All of this ought to promote the growth of new plants, animals, lizards, birds, and even bats.
An experiment to determine how well bison can function as natural “ecosystem engineers” and restore biodiversity is being conducted at the Wilder Blean project, close to Canterbury. The UK is one of the nations with the least amount of natural resources.
Additionally, a more natural woodland should absorb more carbon, assisting in the fight against global warming. With England experiencing a heatwave as the bison were released, it was clear that global warming was a factor. The bison were released early so they could make it to the shade of the woods before the temperature rose.
Bulls of the European bison, the largest land animal on the continent and once extinct in the wild, are now making a comeback thanks to reintroduction programs being carried out all over the continent.
The CEO of Kent Wildlife Trust, Evan Bowen-Jones, stated that “restoring naturally functioning ecosystems is a key and affordable instrument in solving the climate catastrophe” (KWT). “We hope that Wilder Blean will usher in a new era of conservation in the UK. By depending less on human intervention and more on natural engineers like bison, wild boar, and beavers, we need to revolutionize the way we restore natural landscapes.
“Not only this, but we’re providing people in the UK the chance to encounter bison in the wild for the first time in over a thousand years,” said Paul Whitfield, director general of Wildwood Trust. It’s a really potent, visceral, emotional experience that we’ve lost in this nation.
The three bison are moving from wildlife parks where there is less room for them to wander freely and greater opportunity for human interaction. An older female from Scotland’s Highland wildlife park and two younger females from Ireland’s Fota wildlife park will form the herd’s matriarchy.
One of the two new bison rangers hired by the project, Donovan Wright, commented, “We could not have wished for a nicer matriarch.” She is “very, extremely calm,” and “quite confident.”
In the middle of August, they will be joined by a young bull from Germany whose arrival was postponed due to import issues related to Brexit.
The researchers attached tracking collars on the three females on Sunday so they can track their travels and learn more about the plants they interact with. Wright compared bison to enormous seed banks. “They gather seeds as they walk and scatter them along the path,” according to the study.
The double-fenced area will initially be five hectares for the females to explore, but when the bull arrives, it will grow to fifty hectares. 200 hectares will eventually be accessible to the animals. The team speculated that routes in Blean Woods might allow visitors to see the bison.
To enable the animals to safely cross existing footpaths, tunnels the size of bison are also being constructed. Two fences—one electric—keep them in their place. Other wildlife parks in the UK house bison, although they are kept in smaller spaces and fed extra food.
Tom Gibbs, the other bison ranger, stated, “I cannot wait to witness how the bison start to shape the Blean over a five-, ten-, or twenty-year period as they settle into their new home and start throwing their weight around.”
The rangers have spent time at the Netherlands’ Kraansvlak project, where people can now freely stroll around the space once inhabited by 14 bison. There has never been an occurrence that was dangerous.
Other grazing species including Exmoor ponies, iron age pigs, and Longhorn cattle will soon join the bison, whose natural behaviors help the bison manage the environment without human intervention. Long-term monitoring of their effects will include soil sampling, worm counts, analysis of vegetation structure, and observation of invertebrates, birds, and mammals.
“Why shouldn’t we be creating diverse, dynamic, bio-abundant habitats in our national parks and protected landscapes if we can do it in our packed area of the south-east?” Paul Hadaway, the Kent Wildlife Trust’s director of conservation, remarked
The Wilder Blean location is approved for up to 10 animals, and the rangers anticipate that the bison will reproduce, with females giving birth to one calf annually. In the future, they intend to exchange animals throughout Europe and supply bison to other UK sites.
Maximizing genetic variety is crucial because all 7,000 bison in Europe are descended from just 12 zoo animals and the species is still considered to be near endangered. The People’s Postcode Lottery provided the £1.1 million initiative with funding.
This article by Damian Carrington and Nicola Davis was first published by The Guardian on 18 July 2022. Lead Image: Wild bison released into Kent countryside.
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