Bison crossing near Canterbury will give public better view of wild animals

New bridges that will allow bison to roam far wider across an area of ancient British woodland while protecting the public have been given permission.

But a raft of conditions have been placed on Kent Wildlife Trust if they are to build the pedestrian crossings and viewing platforms in the West Blean and Thornden Woods near Canterbury.

Canterbury City Council had previously refused permission for the bridges, citing “a lack of information and evidence to understand the full impact upon ecology and biodiversity, archaeology, heritage assets and visual impact”.

Natural England also raised objections to the plans, arguing they “could have potential significant effects” on the woodland, while ecologists noted it could affect badgers, bats, birds, and dormice.

But the trust says it will provide the plethora of required information and reports to allow the work to proceed on four public crossing bridges, which will cost £250,000.

When erected, it will mean the bison will be able to roam freely across the full 500 acres of Blean woodland instead of being limited to just a quarter of it as they currently are.

The huge animals, which are subject to the Dangerous Wild Animal Act (DWAA), are the UK’s only free roaming herd which were released last year as part of the trust’s wilding project.

Through their natural behaviours, it is hoped they will create an environment that encourages biodiversity, while shaping the landscape to make it more resiliant to climate change.

The ancient woodland has several footpaths and permissible paths running through it and this has presented a challenge to the project as legislation dictates the bison cannot share the same space as the public.

Kent Wildlife Trust project manager Stan Smith explained: “The DWAA legislation posed a problem as to how we can allow the public to access the site while also giving the bison the opportunity to freely choose where they graze.

“We did not want to re-route the public rights of way as community engagement is one of the fundamental objectives of the project, so taking away the public’s opportunity to see the bison was not an option.

“We could have temporarily closed the paths and encouraged the bison to move from one part of the woodland to another with food, but again this would be in opposition to our guiding principles of allowing these eco-system engineers to be wild.

“We want them to go where they choose naturally and by interfering with that, we are contradicting the scientific approach that underlines the whole project.

“This allows us to take realistic steps towards connecting the landscapes. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and we need to start thinking differently about how wildlife moves from site to site.

Mr Smith says the trust is in discussions with other charities and landowners with the intention of connecting the Blean complex, which would allow wildlife greater access to high conservation grade woodland.

“We have the ultimate ambition of installing green bridges which would see wildlife move from one side of Canterbury to the other, across the A2,” he added.