- Bison haven’t roamed the forests of England for 6,000 years, and now they will be part of an experiment to combat climate change and increase biodiversity.
- Bison help the environment by stripping their bark, creating ideal conditions for invertebrates like butterflies, and carrying seeds in their thick fur.
- The team leading the project hopes to see more of these tests in the next 10 years.
For the first time in 6,000 years, the European bison has returned to the British woodlands.
The bison, three females and a bull, were released early Monday morning into a wooded area in Kent called West Blean. The release, organized by conservation organizations Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trustas part of a project to combat climate change and increase biodiversity.
The release is an experiment, but experts want to see similar projects across the UK, said Paul Hadaway, conservation director at Kent Wildlife. “We have some interesting regulations and legislation that need to work out before we can really make that happen,” he told USA TODAY.
The bison is the largest land mammal in Europe and can weigh up to a ton. They are heavier than the American bison, but a little taller, he said.
Hadaway said: The European bison became extinct in prehistoric Great Britain after “we lost our land bridge to Europe about 12,000 years ago”. In Europe, bison “survived until near extinction” after World War I, he said.
Bison will be bred on site, as part of a revival project that includes wild ponies, pigs and camphor cattle. Purpose? “This is kind of a complete grazing set of all these species,” he said. “(They) interact in different ways with the habitat and create a much more natural kind of ecosystem.”
So what do What does bison help the ecosystem?
Hadaway said the release of bison into the area would improve conditions for other species and make the environment more resilient to climate change.
Bison are mainly herbivorous forest animals other than cattle and ponies. The bison rubs against trees to remove their winter coat, causing the trees to shed their bark, creating ideal conditions for invertebrates such as mining bees, beetles and butterflies to thrive, he said. thrive, he said.
The animals also create open ground areas where they dust-bathe or roll over Dry soil. “Those balls of dust create habitats for quite rare invertebrates,” said Hadaway.
Bison also carry seeds on their coats, dispersing them as they move, Hadaway said.
Ultimately, bison could create a more diverse ecosystem that can better absorb greenhouse gases. In addition to rubbing against the tree, they also eat the leaves and bark, which eventually wilt the tree and – in a process known as coppicing – create new growth from the worn out trees.
The evidence-conservation team hopes they can overcome the potential nine trees per day, “naturally grow them” or allow more trunks to grow back. That’s important for the ecosystem because young trees that are growing take up more carbon dioxide, he said.
And it’s cheaper to have bison maintain their habitat than manual maintenance, Hadaway said.
Bison has been released. What now?
Hadaway said the bison now roams the fenced area of about 1,000 acres of nature reserve in southeastern England without interruption by humans.
“My long-term hope is that we can at least bring down one of those two barriers so that they can freely express their behavior,” he said.
Before releasing the bison, the conservation team monitored the flora and fauna of the reserve. As bison moved across the area, the team was able to track the bison’s impact.
The animals have collars on them so they can be tracked – allowing researchers to understand bison behaviour. For example, if animals have stomach problems, “they will find the plants that provide that roughage for them,” says Hadaway. “We had to relearn all of that… because they’d never been there.”
Saleen Martin is a reporter for the USA TODAY group. She is from Norfolk, Virginia – 757 – and love all things horror, witchcraft, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email her at [email protected].