Bison could be seen in British woodland for the first time in thousands of years thanks to a project to restore an ancient habitat and its wildlife.
Four European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal, are being introduced into a nature reserve in Kent as part of a plan to help wildlife in the UK.
Earlier this month, the Woodland Trust warned that a huge increase in litter and fly-tipping in woodlands during lockdown is harming the countryside and putting nature at risk.
European bison are the closest living relative to ancient steppe bison that would have once roamed Britain and naturally managed the habitat, conservationists say.
The creatures fell trees by rubbing up against them and eat bark, creating areas of space and light in the woods and providing deadwood which helps other plants and animals.
Kent Wildlife Trust said patches of bare earth creating by the animals “dust bathing” would encourage lizards, burrowing wasps and rare arable weeds, while bark stripping would create standing deadwood that benefits fungi and insects such as stag beetles.
More light to the woodland floor helps plants such as cow wheat, which the heath fritillary – a rare butterfly found in Blean – depends on.
The herd will be introduced into a fenced enclosure away from public footpaths but will be within a wider 500 hectare (1,200 acre) area, which will also use other grazing animals such as Konik ponies to help stimulate wildlife.
The project is funded by £1,125,000 from the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.
The overall project will be managed by Kent Wildlife Trust, which owns several woods in the Blean area, one of the largest areas of surviving ancient woodland in England, while Wildwood Trust, a native species conservation charity, will be looking after the animals and ensuring their welfare.
Paul Hadaway, director of Conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust said: “The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, nature-based solution is the right one to tackling 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.”
Paul Whitfield, director general of Wildwood Trust said: “The partners in this project have long dreamt of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long.
“This will allow people to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper and more meaningful way.”
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