Bison to roam Britain once more, 6,000 years after dying out

James fisher reports on a rewilding scheme which will bring bison to the south-east of England.

What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? Well, for one, you can’t wash your hands in a buffalo and, also, it seems, you’ll soon be able to find a bison in Kent.

The Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust have secured £1 million of funding to bring bison to a British woodland. The trusts say it will be the first time that bison are introduced to a UK nature reserve. The release is planned for early 2022.

The Wilder Blean project near Canterbury is aiming to improve the bio-diversity of one of the largest remaining areas of ancient woodland in Britain. The European bison is the continent’s largest land mammal, with adult males weighing as much as a ton, and is the closest living relative to the steppe bison that used to roam the UK.

Bison last roamed our green and pleasant land around 6,000 years ago — though not in quite the same form as those which are to be reintroduced. The Rewilding Britain‘s website explains:

‘The European bison is not native to Britain but its close relative, the globally extinct Bison schoetensacki, was here (at least during the Pleistocene). Dental mesowear/fossil tooth wear suggests that B. schoetensacki grazed grasses just like the European bison. The surviving European bison is therefore a suitable surrogate for this extinct species.’

Despite their size, these ‘ecosystem engineers’ are peaceful animals that fell trees and create space for wildlife to flourish, according to the project. Bison have apparently been successfully reintroduced in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, thriving alongside wild horses and various deer species, each performing a slightly different role within Nature.

‘We can take an important step towards reversing the terrifying rate of species loss in the UK,’ says Paul Hadaway, director of conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust. ‘The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, Nature-based solution is the right way to tackle the climate crisis. Using missing keystone species such as bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to bio-abundance.’

The project, which is funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, will involve extensive consultation. ‘Local people will have the chance to get involved… and help return the land to a functioning ecosystem, brimming with life.’