Published: 06:00, 29 July 2021
| Updated: 15:21, 29 July 2021
A team of bison rangers based in woodland in Kent have become the country's first as part of a groundbreaking wildlife project.
The UK's first conservation herd of European bison will be roaming in the 200 hectares of Blean Woods near Canterbury.
The pair, Tom Gibbs and Donovan Wright, will spend their time looking after and managing the animals in a project run by Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust.
They have started working in the ancient woodland to make it ready for the bison to arrive in their new home next year.
The announcement from the two charities comes ahead of World Ranger Day on Saturday which celebrates work by rangers to protect the planet's natural spaces and cultural heritage.
Tom and Donovan were selected out of more than 1,000 applicants from around the world.
“I’m so pleased to have been chosen for the job," said Tom. "It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The bisons are part of a groundbreaking wildlife project
"The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
"Unfortunately, sometimes traditional conservation practices haven’t been able to halt these losses, so wilding and using species like bison offer a sustainable approach where nature can take the lead and restore degraded ecosystems and lost species.
"This in turn creates a healthier environment that provides us all with water, food and air, while helping us reconnect with these wild and natural landscapes.”
Donovan has more than 20 years experience carrying out walking safaris and drives in Africa and worked with the continent's big five – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo.
He said: "I have experience working in some extremely remote locations and thinking on my feet.
"I can’t wait to use these skills to help visitors to the Blean experience wild European bison on foot in the UK and show them how they restore nature and increase biodiversity, while working towards the ultimate goal of seeing bison restoring woodlands across the UK."
The project is funded through £1.575 million raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.
It is part of a wider major conservation project called Wilder Blean which aims to restore the ecosystem of the ancient woodland by using nature and introducing a variety of animals including the four bison, longhorn cattle, iron-age pigs and six Exmoor ponies.
They will be located in a fenced area around the West Blean Woods.
The bison will be kept in a fenced area in the woods
Mark Habben, head of living collections at Wildwood Trust said: “We’re really fortunate to have welcomed Tom and Don, who are both so passionate about conservation and nature.
"In addition to working with the bison in the Blean woods, the rangers will work closely with the team at Wildwood Trust, whose expertise will be drawn on for a whole host of tasks, including bison health checks, as part of managing the bison at their new home in the Blean.
“We look forward to the positive impact that the bison will have when they move into the Blean woods next spring.”
Stan Smith, wilder landscapes manager at Kent Wildlife Trust said: “The Wilder Blean project, thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, is a first step to European bison becoming more frequently introduced for the restoration of ecosystems in Britain.
"The species is known as an 'ecosystem engineer' because of their ability to fell trees by rubbing up against them and eating the bark, creating space for a wide range of other species to thrive. No other species can perform this job in quite the same way."
He added he hoped the new roles created for Tom and Donovan will trigger similar projects across the UK.