Alongside the climate crisis, we face a nature crisis, with the number and abundance of species present in the UK in sharp decline.
To revive nature, we need to look to ambitious rewilding projects. One such biodiversity project, which has national and international significance, is the Wilder Blean initiative on the doorstep of the ward I represent in Herne Bay. This sees two charities, Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, working together with the support of the council to return bison to the Blean Woods.
I say return because the European Bison is an indigenous species, hunted to extinction thousands of years ago in Britain. And yet it has a crucial role to play in regenerating our forests, including the Blean Woods, which are the largest tract of ancient woodland in southeast England.
The bison is known as the ‘chainsaw of the forest’ for its role in bringing down pine and other invasive tree species. The light this releases onto the forest floor, together with the bisons’ love of rolling around in dust baths, will help to create woodland glades, encouraging other native species to take hold and thrive.
So it was a very happy day in July last year when three female bison arrived in our local wood, immediately taking to their surrounding. And they were soon followed not just by a bull, to allow the herd numbers to increase in time, but also by an unexpected baby bison – as it turned out that one of the females had got pregnant at her previous location.
Although fences separate the bison from the many visitors coming to the woods, you can go exploring on the trails that crisscross through the forest, and if you get lucky – as I recently did – you will see the bison family in the flesh. It is an amazing experience to encounter these huge but peaceful animals.
While it is the return of bison which has caught the attention of nature lovers across the world, the Wilder Blean project has an even bigger vision, one which sees Exmoor ponies, iron-age pigs and longhorn cattle also being reintroduced to the forest to encourage further biodiversity. But we are also looking to create additional ‘green corridors’ to join together the various tracts of forest which comprise the Blean, undoing the man-made fragmentation of these ancient woods which has happened over the centuries.
The gradual regeneration of the Blean will help it capture more carbon and support greater biodiversity. As such, all of the partners see Wilder Blean as a blueprint for other projects across the UK, helping nature recover and playing a part in the UK hitting its net-zero target.
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