Bison released into the wild to tackle climate change 

Bison released at Blean
Bison being released at Blean: screenshot from youtube clip sent with Press pack by Georgina Mear

As experts predict the hottest day of the year, two leading charities release bison into the wild to help tackle the climate crisis.

Slowing climate change

A ground-breaking project to slow the climate crisis using wild bison has reached a major milestone on what is predicted to be the hottest day on record this year. The Met Office has issued an amber weather warning with temperatures potentially reaching 35°C – with Britons set to endure the very real effects of the climate crisis.

In the cooler part of the day, shortly before 7am on 18 July, European bison were released into West Blean and Thornden Woods, Kent.

  • The bison are ‘ecosystem engineers’ which means they will restore life to the woodland through their natural behaviours and offer a nature-based solution to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis.
  • This is the first-time bison have roamed in the UK for thousands of years.
  • The historic event occurs two years into a five-year project by the charities Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust, funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

European bison released into ancient woodland

European bison are a keystone species who will help restore natural processes in West Blean and Thornden Woods. Known as ‘ecosystem engineers’, the bison will breathe new life into the ancient woodland. Their natural behaviours such as grazing, eating bark, felling trees and taking dust baths will open the canopy, creating light and new spaces for wildlife and previously missing species to thrive.

A pioneering conservation project reached a historic milestone as European bison were released into an ancient woodland in Kent. The bison will create a more climate resilient landscape within West Blean and Thornden Woods, near Canterbury, as their natural behaviours restore dynamic and complex habitats. 
 
By creating layers within the forest and naturally felling trees, the woodland will move away from being a monoculture, and wetter areas will not only store carbon, but reduce flood risk.

Wild bison as part of a landmark

This is the first time in thousands of years that wild bison have roamed in UK woodlands as part of a landmark experiment to test this nature-based solution to habitat management as well as the climate and nature crisis.

Evan Bowen-Jones, chief executive officer at Kent Wildlife Trust, said:

“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.

“We want Wilder Blean to mark the beginning of a new era for conservation in the UK. We need to revolutionise the way we restore natural landscapes, relying less on human intervention and more on natural engineers like bison, boar and beaver.

“Equally important, is that the Wilder Blean project will connect people with nature in a way that hasn’t been possible before in the UK because we haven’t had big wild animals present in our landscapes. We hope that those who visit the woodland and learn about the project will be inspired by what we are doing and become champions for nature too.”

The bison will soon be joined by other grazing animals, including Exmoor ponies, Iron Age pigs and Longhorn cattle, whose natural behaviours complement the bison and will help to manage the landscape without the need for human intervention. Their impact on biodiversity and the landscape will be closely monitored in a long-term survey programme led by Kent Wildlife Trust.

Paul Whitfield, director general of Wildwood Trust, said:

“Today heralds a new dawn for conservation and the fight against climate change.

“As well as helping the biodiversity crisis, one of the fantastic things about this ground-breaking project is that it’s going to demonstrate the very real impact nature based solutions can have in solving the climate crisis. The two are intrinsically linked and we can’t solve one without the other.

“With this project, we’re going to prove the impact bison in the wild can have on the environment. They will create an explosion of biodiversity and build habitat resilience; locking in carbon to help reduce global temperature rise. This will act as a huge catalyst for change, with the project being replicated on scale across the country. It will make a phenomenal difference. It’s great news in these worrying times.

“Not only this but 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. It’s an absolute privilege to be part of the team that’s bringing that back.”

The £1.125m project was funded by money raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and awarded through the annual Dream Fund. Laura Chow, head of charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “The introduction of these extraordinary animals to British woodlands is a significant moment in the fight to protect and enhance biodiversity. It’s fantastic to see support from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery going towards restoring and increasing biodiversity and bio-abundance in West Blean woods.”

The Wilder Blean project 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.

Animal welfare has been at the heart of this project, with the wellbeing of the bison taking precedence over any media activity.

Monitoring

The impact of the animals on the landscape will be part of an ecological monitoring programme led by Kent Wildlife Trust. This includes monitoring multiple ecological parameters to detect changes over time. Everything from soil sampling and worm counts to collecting data on vegetation structure will be examined. The team will also be monitoring several different groups of species including invertebrates, birds and mammals. Read more about the Wilder Blean monitoring programme here.

More about bison

European bison (Wisent) were almost extinct in the wild at the end of the Second World War. Since then they have recovered but still remain an endangered species. Several pioneering projects in Europe, including in the Netherlands, have seen these animals return from the brink and demonstrated the incredible impacts they can have on species diversity and abundance.

The Blean bison (click for YouTube video) will form part of the European Endangered Species Protection Programme and this project will be a pioneering first for UK Conservation.
 


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