February 5, 2023

A rewilding project to reintroduce bison to Britain now has “the missing piece of the puzzle” after a bull finally arrives from Germany to join the all-female herd.

The male European bison is vital to boost numbers Wilder Blean project in the ancient woodland at Canterbury in Kent.

It’s a joint project between two charities – Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust – and “a privilege” to be a part of, according to its director of zoological operations, Mark Habben.

“It’s amazing to see how these animals behave naturally in this incredible landscape, but it was a chore to get here,” he said.

“It was challenging – paperwork, veterinary, discussions with the EU, just trying to navigate the movement of animals to the UK in a post-Brexit world, but we are here now and incredibly happy to be.”

Mark Habben
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Mark Habben said the rewilding process was a “slog.”

The three females were released into the woods five months ago and quickly and unexpectedly turned four after one was found to be pregnant – a surprise that left bison ranger Tom Gibbs “ecstatic”.

“I’ll remember it for the rest of my life — when I got to work and behold, I found this little calf next to my mother,” he said.

“She started out as Bambi on ice. When you see her now, she looks like a real little buffalo – she’s strong, stocky and probably tripled in size in three months.”

Bison last roamed the country 12,000 years ago and nearly became extinct in the 19th century.

But the rewilding goes beyond securing the animals’ future.

“We call them ‘ecosystem engineers’ and what they do is shape the world around them,” Gibbs said.

“All the spores they create, breaking trees, eating vegetation, dust bathing, give other species that are often less competitive room to grow and thrive.”

And that, he explained, helps prepare for climate change.

“It allows the forest to adapt to a much more uncertain future by supporting a much more diverse range of species. It means it’s more resilient to different temperatures,” Gibbs added.

Tom Gibbs
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Tom Gibbs was surprised to find that three bison had become four

Others want to follow suit and reintroduce bison.

But Merlin Hanbury-Tenison, the co-founder of Cabilla Cornwall, which has already introduced beavers, says the red tape is a major barrier.

“There are huge issues around licensing with Natural England around fencing specifications, around the feasibility studies, stakeholder involvement, the inspection cycles that need to be put in place,” he said.

“It makes it incredibly expensive and incredibly stressful for anyone who tries it.”

Bison rewilding
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Bison last roamed the country 12,000 years ago and nearly became extinct in the 19th century

A spokesperson for Defra, which sponsors Natural England and is advised by the organization on environmental matters, said in a statement: “We have supported opportunities to reintroduce previously native species where there are clear benefits to nature, people and the environment. broader environment.

“We fully review each application to ensure all enclosures are safe and potential impacts are carefully considered before a license is issued.”

At Blean, everything is going exactly as they hoped.

With a bull finally joining the herd, it’s hoped it won’t be long before more bison make their mark on the quiet corner of the Kent countryside.

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