Thanks to a new United Kingdom bison reintroduction plan, wild bison will wander Kent’s ancient forest for the first time in 6,000 years. The Bison reintroduction plan is scheduled for the spring of 2022. The plan has designs to reintroduce four European wood bison from Poland, one male and 3 females will make their way to the United Kingdom.

The reintroduction hopes to spark a chain reaction within the forest. The project was organized by the Kent Wildlife Trust. KWT is using the reintroduction as a controlled study. The study wants to see if a large herbivore can renew the forest habitat.

“Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.”- Paul Hadaway from KWT

A reintroduction 6,000 years in the making

Since the last Ice Age, European wood bison once roamed the majority of the continent. However, the bison were over hunted to near extinction. Consequently, many European countries have successfully reintroduced the woods bison. Both Poland and Germany have small herds spread out across their countrysides. In areas that wood bison have been reintroduced, officials have seen a replenishing of woodlands habitat.

“European bison are being used in this project because they are ecosystem engineers. Meaning that they are able to change their environment through their natural behaviors. Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can.”-KWT News Release

Are bison woodlands repairmen?

Data from both Poland and Germany suggest that they may well be. Bison kill weak trees by eating their bark. They also remove dead trees by knocking them over while rubbing up against them. This results in pockets of sunshine reaching the forest floor. Once sunshine and rainfall can reach the forest floor it helps new plant life grow. In an unexpected way, this bison reintroduction is more about stopping habitat and species loss then it is about the bison. However, KWT is hoping that bringing in a new keystone species will get people excited about conservation in the United Kingdom. Once the bison are reintroduced, KWT has plans to also reintroduce wild pigs and free-range cattle into the woodlands.

“The partners in the Kent project have long dreamed of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long. People will be able to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper way.”- Paul Whitfield, of  Wildwood Trust

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