Wild Bison Will Soon Roam the UK

Once seen depicted in cave paintings, bison are finally coming home.

Sep 2, 2020

A herd of bison is returning to Britain. Thanks to a conservation rewilding project, the majestic European bison that were once seen in prehistoric cave paintings in France will soon be roaming across grasslands in the UK.

The largest land mammal in Europe, bison (Bison bonasus) stand well over 6-feet (1.8 meters) tall and can weigh up to 2,000 lbs (907 kgs) . Also known as wisent, or zubr in Polish, European bison are less shaggy than their North American cousins and have curled horns much like cows.

Some 6,000 years ago, herds of steppe bison roamed across Europe, feeding on shoots, leaves, and grass. Researchers claim that these steppe bison, as depicted in the cave paintings, disappeared as far back as 10,000 years ago after the recent Ice Age. 

They were survived by the present-day European bison who grazed freely in Poland right up until 1919, as reported in Nature. During World War I, the last of these wild bison were hunted to extinction, but they made a comeback thanks to a few bison protected in zoos.

Today, there are 6,000 bison on the European mainland, with herds in protected areas in the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, France, and Poland. According to The Guardian, Britain has plans to rewild the bison, releasing one male and three females in a forested 1200-acre area in Kent. 

Britain is devoted to rebuilding its ecosystem and believes the answer lies in the concept of rewilding. Rebecca Wrigley, Chief Executive of Rewilding Britain explains, rewilding is about letting nature do its thing and take care of itself, but it’s also about people. People lie at the heart of rewilding, and people need to choose to rewild to make it happen.”

Britain’s plan is to have the bison regenerate a pine forest plantation to its former natural state. The Wilder Blean project is being sponsored by several funds and conservation charities, with the focus on keeping the bison as wild as possible. They will graze undisturbed for their own food and live independently, without man made shelters.

Bison, as reported in The Guardian, are a keystone species that will help restore natural habitats. Along with beavers, they are known as “ecosystem engineers.” By rubbing against tree bark, they fell trees. The fallen wood and bark will attract insects who in turn bring birds and butterflies. The sunny clearings that will be created as the bison graze will then invite wildflowers to bloom.

The hope is that this process will restore bio-abundance, transforming this area to its former glory, filled with a mix of scrub, woodland, and glades, and will be home to native plants, insects, and birds.

Each female will birth one calf per year. Once the herd is settled, Wildwood Trust, who is overseeing the conservation project, say they will graze in an unfenced area. The area will be open to the public and rangers will watch the herd from raised platforms.

Paul Whitfield of Wildwood Trust told The Guardian, “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.”

Britain is very enthusiastic as it prepares for the release of the bison and the subsequent restoration of its ancient woodlands. Says Wrigley of Rewilding Britain, “We need to hit the reset button for our relationship with the natural world, and rebuild our lives and economies in ways that keep nature and us healthy.”

As the UK reaches back to the past, it is opening a new future as it redefines man’s relationship with nature, leaving wise nature to be and simply coexisting with it.

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NICOLE NATHAN BEM, CONTRIBUTOR
Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.