UNITED KINGDOM: Environmentalists across the United Kingdom rejoiced as the Kent Wildlife Trust announced the surprise birth of a Bison calf. Scientists estimate that the live birth marks the first in Britain in over 6,000 years.
The Kent Wildlife Trust has welcomed the surprise birth of a European Bison, the newborn calf adding to the growing herd of three females. The female Bison had been introduced to West Blean and Thronden wood in the summer of 2022 as part of Kent Wildlife Trust’s Wilder Blean project.
The Wilder Blean project’s work is vitally important to enriching Britain's natural ecosystem. Rewilding aims to preserve and repair land for the eventual reintroduction of keystone native flora and fauna. The Wilder Bean project recreates the ecological conditions of pre-bronze age Britain - restoring biodiversity lost to centuries of human activity.
Wildlife populations in Britain have collapsed since population records began in the 1970s. Estimates place the average decline at 60%, with “a quarter of UK mammals and nearly half of [the] birds” at risk of extinction.
The sheer dearth of British biodiversity has led researchers to declare Britain as one of the poorest nations on earth when rated ecologically–a claim that could make a possible “ecological meltdown” an unavoidable certainty if measures aren’t taken immediately.
The Wilder Blean is the Kent Wildlife Trust’s solution to the decrease in British biodiversity. Their flagship project aims to enrich the 9,000 acres of nature reserves under their protection.
Centuries of overgrazing of a single species such as sheep and cattle have stripped the ground bare, accelerating habitat degradation. It is hoped that Bison, as ecosystem engineers, will drive natural regeneration processes in the area.
Park Ranger, Tom Gibbs, described his elation at the groundbreaking discovery of the new calf. “It was just unbelievable to think this is the first wild-born Bison here in England,” said Mr. Gibbs. “It was a monumental moment.”
European Bison are known to be secretive animals, naturally concealing their pregnancies to deter predation in the wild. The new mother had arrived with another young female from a reserve in Ireland while the third, the matriarch, joined from Scotland. The bull was stuck in Germany at the time of birth due to Brexit paperwork issues.
“The matriarch rules the roost,” said Mr. Gibbs, playing down any possible complications the bull’s arrival may cause. “His interest will be in the older females, not the calf.”
Hoping to expedite the Bison’s positive natural regeneration effects, Exmoor Ponies, Boar-Pig hybrids and Longhorn Cattle have also been added to the project. Each targeting different levels of the trophic pyramid, Paul Hadaway of the Kent Wildlife Trust hopes that the variation of species will have positive but contracting effects on the landscape.
“This is where the project starts to come to fruition”, said Mr. Hadaway. “The intention was always to have as close to a natural grazing assemblage as we could recreate.”
The ensemble of species introduced to the Wilder Blean will take time to habituate to each other and the project, but it is hoped their effects on Britain's degraded landscape will be transformative.
Edited by: Alanna Fullerton
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