The wild bison returns... but that's not the point
Long after being hunted to extinction, Bison are being reintroduced to the UK in a pioneering project. But they are only part of the story.
After a short 6000 year intermission, a small herd of bison are set to return to the British countryside. The project, headed by the Kent Wildlife Trust, aims to complete the introduction of a small herd to a woodland near Canterbury by early 2022.
Although European Bison are not technically native to the UK, they are a close relative to other now-extinct species of Bison which roamed the British Isles 6,000-10,000 years ago.
European Bison also bear similarity to Aurochs, a species of ancient cattle which became extinct in the UK in the Bronze Age (though some survived in Europe until the 17th century).
Small herd, big impacts
The Bison will eventually roam a sizeable 1,200 acre section of woodland which is already a designated nature reserve. They will not be fed or provided with shelter, with the aim being to keep them as ‘wild’ as possible (though there will be rangers monitoring their health).
The herd, made initially of one male and three females, will have enough room to naturally grow over time. Each female bison could have up to one calf every year.
Bison are what many naturalists blandly refer to as ‘ecosystem engineers’. Essentially, this means they affect their environment in a way which creates opportunities for more species of plants and/or animals to flourish.
By toppling woodland trees for example, Bison create space for species which require sunlight or dead wood to thrive, creating a varied patchwork of different habitats and making for a greater variety of species in the same area. The extinction of Bison and other large mammals has deprived most ecosystems in the UK of this vital process for hundreds of years.
This isn’t really just about the Bison
Many people (us included!) are greatly excited at the prospect of wild bison roaming the British countryside. These large, charismatic animals will always capture the imagination.
But we see this project as more than that. In fact, we don’t think it’s really about Bison at all. It’s about the possibilities that they represent.
The possibility that that in a modern, crowded country like the UK, we can still make room for large, ancient species such as these.
The possibility that animals like Bison could seriously – and at little cost - improve the biodiversity of our natural spaces, making it possible for a wider range of birds, insects and small mammals to exist.
The possibility that by filling a 6000 year old niche in the ecosystem, felling trees and disturbing soil, these large herbivores might just give us a glimpse of what a wilder Britain may have looked like thousands of years ago.
Be in no doubt that this small bison herd in Kent will excite and inspire people across the UK - but they will only be part of the story.