Published: 06:00, 10 July 2020
| Updated: 17:09, 23 November 2020
Bison are to be introduced to a Kent woodland as part of a ground-breaking project to boost biodiversity.
The six-foot grazing animals will roam a 2,500-acre conservation area in Blean, near Canterbury, as part of the £1.1m Wilder Blean project.
The last wild European bison - the continent's largest land mammal - is thought to have been shot dead in Poland in 1919. By 1927, the only members of the species left were kept in captivity.
But in recent years, the magnificent beasts' population has increased thanks to successful wilding projects in France, Denmark, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands.
Now, the Wilder Blean project, headed up by the Wildwood Trust and Kent Wildlife Trust, will see the beasts introduced into the Kent countryside.
They will live on a conservation area in Blean that will cover about the area of a thousand football pitches, and will be protected and looked after daily by renowned experts in native species conservation.
The project aims to create the greatest plant and animal biodiversity possible, creating stronger habitats that will withstand environmental crisis and species decline and "hopefully reverse it".
Paul Hadaway, director of conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust said: "We can now take an important step towards reversing the terrifying rate of species loss in the UK.
"The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, nature-based solution is the right one to tackling the climate and nature crisis we now face.
"Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape.”
Bison are known as "ecosystem engineers", because of the way they improve their habitat for other animals even more effectively than traditional land management.
The animals, which can weigh up to one tonne, push over trees by rubbing up against them and eat bark, creating space for other creatures and plants to thrive.
Bison are peaceful and are not considered a significant threat to humans.
The Wilder Blean project has been able to go ahead thanks to £1,125,000 awarded by the People's Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.
Paul Whitfield, Director General of Wildwood Trust added: “The partners in this project have long dreamt of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long.
"This will allow people to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper and more meaningful way.
"It will inspire people and demonstrate to policy makers that nature presents the answer to the crisis we face.
"It will empower them to make a difference and it will prove that there is a way to make things better in these challenging times.”
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, descried the introduction of bison to British woodlands as "a hugely significant moment in the fight to protect and enhance biodiversity".
"The players of People’s Postcode Lottery provide vital funding to a wide of range of environmental projects," she added. "I am delighted this award from the Postcode Dream Trust will enable this important project to go ahead."
European bison closely resemble, but are considered a separate species to their North American cousin.
Although no remains of the creatures have been found in Britain, on Doggerland - the land bridge in the North Sea that once connected the UK to Europe - bones have been found dating back about 11,600 years.
KMTV learns about the project