Three of the European mammals – a cousin species of the well-known American bison – settled in Kent on Monday for the first time ever since Britain lost its land bridge to the rest of the continent many millennia ago.
Despite being Europe’s heaviest mammal, wild bison have not been in the continent since after World War 1, although preservation projects have managed to bring back around 6,200 of the animals since 2019.
The decision to reintroduce bison to the UK is not just a nostalgic move, but an eco-friendly one; researchers believe that the animals might just encourage more wildlife and plants to grow, by knocking down trees with their body mass.
The animals also have an appetite for bark which will reduce the tree density for more ecosystems to settle, while their habit of rolling in dust baths will also encourage more open areas for other animals.
They’ll be joined by other animals too, including ponies, pigs and cattle.
The team also claimed that the bison collect seeds and then disperse them along the route.
They will have a five-hectare double-fenced area to explore but this will go up to 50 hectares later this summer. Eventually, they’ll have 200 hectares.
These three bison all come from wildlife parks in Scotland and Ireland, and are soon to be joined by a young bull from Germany in August.
It’s part of the Wilder Blean project, based near Canterbury, which hopes that the bison will live up to their reputation as “ecosystem engineers”.
This is particularly necessary in the UK – and not just because of the devastating heatwave which swept across the country this week – as the WWF claims Britain is “one of the most nature depleted countries in the world”.
The WWF also alleges: “Despite nature struggling against all odds to survive, more than one in seven native species face extinction and more than 40% are in decline.”
By making the woodland more natural, the bison should also help to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere.
The thousands of bison now living in Europe come from just 12 zoo animals, and the species is still considered near threatened.
This reintroduction programme was a £1.1 million project funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.
Evan Bowen-Jones, Kent Wildlife Trust’s CEO, told Now This: “The restoration of naturally functioning ecosystems is a vital and inexpensive tool in tackling the climate crisis. The bison will help to create climate resistant landscapes which can adapt to the challenges presented by the crisis we face.”
They also called for this to be the beginning of new era for conservation in the UK, as the country looks to rely less on human intervention and more on other natural engineers, including boars and beavers.
Paul Whitfield, director general of Wildwood Trust also told The Guardian that it’s not just about ecosystems either.
“We’re giving people in the UK – for the first time in over a thousand years – the chance to experience bison in the wild.
“It’s a really powerful, emotional, visceral experience and it’s something we’ve lost in this country.”