- A herd of bison released in southern England will be the first bison to return to England 6,000 years after their ancestors became extinct.
- Environmentalists say bison are a "keystone species" that can naturally manage woodlands.
- European bison imported from Poland and the Netherlands will form the core of the new herd.
- Beavers have already been successfully reintroduced into the UK and there are discussions about releasing other extinct species, including wild lynx and even wolves.
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A herd of wild bison will be released in southern England for the first time in 6,000 years to help restore an ancient habitat and its surrounding wildlife, according to conservationists.
The move is part of a £1m project ($1.2 million) led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust, which aims to restore Blean Woods — a former pine wood plantation — near Canterbury.
The animals will be welcomed to their new home in the spring of 2022, with conservationists planning to first set free one male and three females to form the core of the new herd, according to the Guardian. The animals will be imported from Poland and the Netherlands — countries where previous releases have proven successful.
Conservationists hope that the move will help secure the future of the endangered species and that Europe's largest land mammal will also help naturally regenerate the area.
Wild bison fell trees by eating their bark or rubbing up against them. This will create wide and sunny clearings, which in turn will help native plants to thrive.
"The Wilder Blean project will prove that a wilder, nature-based solution is the right one to tackle the climate and nature crisis we now face," Paul Hadaway, of Kent Wildlife Trust said, according to the BBC.
"Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape." What the Trust calls "ecosystem engineering."
The European bison is the closest living relative to the ancient steppe bison, which existed in the UK 6,000 years ago before it was killed off due to hunting.
A team of conservationists will be working over the next 18 months to create a fenced enclosure within a wider 150 hectare (370 acres) area.
The public will be able to visit the area with rangers once the wild animals are settled. "This will allow people to experience nature in a way they haven't before," Hadaway said.
Over the centuries, Britain has lost many of its keystone species. But there is a growing re-wilding movement advocating for the reintroduction of large mammals and birds of prey driven to extinction by hunting and habitat loss.
Beavers, last recorded in the 16th century, were successfully reintroduced in 2009 and several populations now thrive around the country.
A Lynx UK Trust has been set up and wants to release the Eurasian lynx into forests in Scotland and the north of England to help keep down deer numbers.
The return of the wolf is perhaps the most controversial suggestion. Plans to release two packs withing a fenced range in Britain's wildest region in northern Scotland have been greeted with horror by walkers and farmers alike.
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