The last time they set foot in the UK, the Mesolithic era was coming to a close as cave-dwelling Britons discovered farming and started clearing forests for their livestock. Now, 6,000 years on, wild bison are to return to our soil as part of a massive conservation project.
In an effort to safeguard the European bison, a small herd of the endangered animals is to be reintroduced in Kent in spring 2022. Conservationists hope the bisons’ grazing will also help kill off redundant pine wood trees, create sunny new glades and improve insect, bird and plant diversity in the area.
To start with, one male and three females will be introduced, with each cow expected to produce one calf per year through natural breeding. The bison being released in the UK will likely come from the Netherlands or Poland, where similar reintroduction schemes have been successful.
The animals are Europe’s largest land mammals and weigh up to a tonne each. They’re expected to kill trees on a former pine wood plantation by eating their bark or rubbing against them. This dead wood should provide food for insects, which will in turn provide food for birds including nightingales and turtle doves.
Paul Hadaway, of Kent Wildlife Trust, told The Guardian: ‘Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.’
Once the bison are settled in their 500-hectare patch, the public will be able visit with rangers and observe the animals from viewing platforms. And as the herd grows year on year, some may be moved to similar sites across the UK.
The wildlife trust says there are no plans to reintroduce predators such as wolves. But if these enormous bison really do thrive again, who knows?
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