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European bison
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From bison to beavers: how wild animals are being reintroduced across Europe

Countries across the continent are reintroducing species that have been extinct in the wild for hundreds – sometimes thousands – of years

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham
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Head over to Kent this spring and there’s a chance you’ll bump into an animal that hasn’t roamed the Garden of England for thousands of years. We’re talking about bison, those huge hunks of fur and muscle probably better known for roaming North America than Europe. But European bison are actually a separate species to their American cousins – and while they were hunted to extinction in the wild, now they’re making a comeback.

It isn’t just in the UK that European bison are back on the rise. They’ve been reintroduced all across the continent, from Romania to Spain, and they’re thriving. Little by little, year on year, Europe’s bison population is recovering.

And bison aren’t the only animals being brought back throughout Europe. Beavers have been reintroduced to more than 26 countries across the continent and, after being rewilded in Poland in the 1950s, the grey wolf is making a comeback as far west as the Netherlands, Belgium and even south-west France.

Bird species are also thriving. Red kites were reintroduced to England from Spain in the 1990s and can now be seen in virtually every county, while ospreys have also recovered from near-extinction throughout Wales and England.

Species are reintroduced to areas after thorough research of local habitats and careful consideration of the interests of people who live and work there. After that, a species can either be transported from elsewhere or trained in captivity so that they thrive in a new area. Another policy, as seen with wolves, is to simply not hunt the animals, therefore letting them thrive and spread. 

If you’re wondering what the point of all this is, well, species reintroduction has plenty of benefits. Many see it as a return to a more resilient, diverse natural environment. But reintroduced species can also actively support other wildlife and habitats, whether that be by hunting pests, supporting fauna or generally restoring a natural balance. They can boost tourism, too – as seen with the reintroduction of the sea eagle to the Isle of Mull in Scotland, which has apparently turned the area into a magnet for wildlife watchers.

So which species could be next to be reintroduced? Well, a huge number of species have been wiped out by humans across Europe for thousands of years – so there’s no shortage of choice. Currently on the agenda are the likes of lynx, bears, vultures, wild horses, grey seals and wolverines. In other words, much of Europe could see its wildlife totally transformed (for the better, of course) over the next few decades.

To find out more, and view a fuller list of species currently being reintroduced, check out the Rewilding Europe website here.

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