Words by Smiley Team
Bison are returning to the UK for the first time since the pleistocene epoch.
Thousands of years ago, a species of bison roamed the land that's now the UK. The pleistocene woodland bison went extinct, but it was a keystone species – one that's critical to the ecosystem.
The European bison is genetically very similar to the now extinct woodland bison that would have roamed these lands thousands of years ago.
“They are magnificent animals, truly gentle giants,” Donovan Wright, one of the UK’s first bison rangers, told The Guardian.
Like similar programmes in countries such as Poland, Ukraine and Switzerland, the UK will be introducing the European bison into their wild areas. Not only will this help the species to thrive, it will help the land and environment by promoting ‘wilding’.
According to the Kent Wildlife Trust, wilding is “when nature is given the tools and space it needs to recover itself”. This is a technique that allows the natural cycles of nature to take over, and for which keystone species are imperative.
The bison will be introduced into the West Blean and Thornden Woods, 490 hectares of ever-changing ancient woodland. Here, performing their natural behaviours, they will help increase biodiversity in the wild, promoting natural woodland management and helping to store carbon.
“What makes bison a keystone species is that they strip bark off trees by rubbing up against them, and by eating it," Wright also said of the creatures who will soon be inhabiting the UK.
It is when these trees die that light can reach the forest floor, helping to promote the growth of other plants and other life that otherwise would struggle to survive. The first four bison will arrive at West Blean and Thornden Woods, just outside Canterbury, Kent, in summer 2022.
DONATE: Transform the ancient woodland by donating to Wilder Blean.
VOLUNTEER: Find out how to volunteer with the Kent Wildlife Trust on their website.
GET INVOLVED: Download a free family fundraising pack to raise money for Kent’s wild spaces.
SUPPORT: Adopt a European bison and support the programme.