By Meena Thiruvengadam
July 14, 2020
A young bull of a herd of eight European bison graze in the Rothaargebirge mountain on May 5, 2014 near Bad Berleburg, Germany. The herd is a project of Wisent Welt Wittgenstein, a government-funded initiative that last year released the herd in an effort to restock the bison in the wild. European bison were once plentiful across Europe and Russia, though their numbers were decimated nearly to extinction by hunting and habitat encroachment.
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

In an effort to make the UK more of a refuge for wildlife, the Kent Wildlife and Wildwood Trusts are bringing back wild bison that haven’t roamed the area in thousands of years.

The trusts are embarking on a £1 million project funded by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery to give nature a little space in the woods near Canterbury, England. The Kent Wildlife Trust owns the West Blean woods, one of the UK’s largest nature reserves. The site was previously used for timber production, a history that’s left it covered in non-native conifer trees that aren’t conducive to a thriving habitat for wildlife.

The Trust tried cutting trees down but believes bison are a better approach. Kent calls it “wilding” and sees it as a way to give nature the tools and space it needs to recover from previous damage. It casts bison as ecological engineers with the power to return this land to its previous glory.

European bison have a unique ability to change their environment through their natural behavior. These bison are a close relative of the now extinct Steppe bison which inhabited this area thousands of years ago.

Bison have an ability to change woodlands in a way that no other animal can, reps for Kent Wildlife Trust said in announcing the project. The trust believes bison are key to bringing back other wildlife without increasing its carbon footprint in pursuit of its mission. The trust expects its efforts will bring back nightingales and turtle doves as well.

The UK is one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries, according to the Worldwide Wildlife Foundation. The volume and variety of wildlife in the UK have been declining for decades. Several species are nearing extinction in the UK.

Similar projects to preserve bison have successfully created bison habitats in other countries and a similar effort to revive the UK’s beaver population have successfully accomplished their missions.

The trust plans to bring back the bison — one male and three females — in the spring of 2022. It expects reproduction to grow the herd and to eventually welcome visitors to see the bison.