The steppe bison is thought to have roamed the UK until about 6,000 years ago when hunting and changes in habitat led to its global extinction. Now, thanks to a fantastic new initiative, the steppe bison’s closest relative, the European bison, will be introduced to the landscape of the UK.
The £1m project will, in part, help secure the future of an endangered species, but it will also naturally regenerate a former pine wood plantation in the town of Kent by killing off trees. This will help to create a healthy mix of woodland, scrub, and glades, boosting insect, bird, and plant life.
Now, you might be asking: how does this work? Well, bison kill selected trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter fur. This creates a feast of dead wood for insects, which provides food for birds. Tree felling also creates sunny clearings where native plants can thrive.
The trust expects nightingales and turtle doves to be among the beneficiaries of the bison’s “ecosystem engineering”. During the initial release in 2022, one male and three females will be set free. Natural breeding will increase the size of the herd, with one calf per year the norm for each female.
The bison will come from the Netherlands or Poland, where releases have been successful and safe. Once the bison are settled, the public will be able to visit the area with rangers and watch the animals from viewing platforms. In the Netherlands, where bison projects have been running for 15 years, people walk through the areas without incident.