The Rewilding of Bison in Blean Woods

by Olivia Barrett

In September of 2022 shortly after the rewilding and repopulating of bison project had begun, the bison rangers with the Kent Wildlife Trust were surprised to find a new bison calf running along with the herd on one of their regular check-ups!

So, what is the rewilding project?

This project located in West Blean and Thornden Woods is just one of many in England trying to bring local species back into the population. For the bison, it is signalling their return after 6000 years. One of Europe’s largest and most peaceful land mammals, the bison are known as an “ecosystem engineer”, meaning they can create and improve habitats for other species. The project aims to restore the ecosystem of the ancient woodlands and is funded by The People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund. It is part of the Wilder Blean Project, which was created as a direct response to the decline in natural species in the UK, which, according to the State of Nature Report, has seen species decline at the fastest rate in thousands of years. Introducing bison is also an alternative to traditional human woodland management, giving nature the tools and space, it needs to recover.

About the bison:

The bison, coming from Europe, will not be given any food or artificial shelters, though their health will be monitored by observing their coats and examining their dung. “We need to keep them as wild as possible [for the project to succeed],” said Stan Smith of Kent Wildlife Trust. The bison have already proved successful in other European countries showing the hope for the group in Kent. One male and three females were introduced to the woods aiming to grow with natural breeding. At the moment there is no intention to introduce predators, however the bison will hopefully soon be joined by other grazing animals, and as the herd grows some bison will be moved to other areas in the UK. The bison are currently in a five-hectare (12-acre) enclosure, as they adapt to their new lives and their health is closely monitored. They will be moved to an area of 50-hectare next and then, next summer, the full 200-hectare site.

Bison are amazing animals as they fell trees and can naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation by killing off other trees. This creates a healthy mix of woodland, scrub and glades, boosting insect, bird and plant life. They will create a more climate resilient landscape by creating layers within the forest and by naturally felling trees, the woodland will move away from being a mono culture, and wetter areas will not only store carbon, but reduce flood risk. They help to manage the landscape without the need for human intervention and demonstrate the very real impact nature-based solutions can have in solving the climate crisis.

See the bison being released here!

The new addition:  In September if 2022 the arrival of a healthy bison calf, shocked rangers when carrying out a routine check. The birth was unexpected as bison conceal their pregnancies to prevent predators targeting pregnant animals or their offspring. “The calf has come on leaps and bounds – literally,” said Tom Gibbs, a bison ranger. She loves to run circles around the adults, he added. The calf was thought to have been born on the 9th of September, however the announcement was delayed due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This is a great start to this rewilding project and gives hope for the future of this project and others similar.

See the baby bison here!

Wildlife in the UK:

Populations of the UK’s most important wildlife have plummeted by an average of 60% since 1970. A quarter of UK mammals and nearly half of the birds assessed are at risk of extinction and when plants, insects and fungi are added, one in seven of the 8,400 UK species assessed are at risk of being completely lost, with 133 already gone since 1500. The causes of the losses are the intensification of farming, pollution from fertiliser, manure and plastic, the destruction of habitats for houses, the climate crisis and invasive alien species. These losses mirror what is happening all over the globe not just in the UK.

Rosie Hails of the National Trust said: “It’s not just government that needs to act; we can also all do our own bit, including nature-friendly planting in our backyards.”

Have a look at our other Instagram posts to see how you can help. 🙂


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