Wild bison to be introduced into Kent woodland

Bison will be introduced to UK woodland to restore an ancient habitat and its wildlife, conservationists have said.

The £1m project, led by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust, is aimed at helping to manage Blean Woods near Canterbury.

A wild herd of European bison, the continent's largest land mammal, will be in their new home by spring 2022.

The breed is the closest living relative to ancient steppe bison, which once roamed Britain.

The charities will be preparing over the next 18 months, including creating a fenced enclosure.

The bison will be within a wider 500 hectare (1,200 acre) area with other grazing animals such as Konik ponies, to create varied and healthy habitat, the conservationists said.

Adult males can weigh up to a tonne but bison are peaceful, according to the experts, and no other species could perform the job of engineering the habitat in quite the same way.

They fell trees by rubbing up against them, creating areas of space and light in the woods, which help plants such as cow wheat to grow.

The heath fritillary - a rare butterfly - depends on this plant.

Patches of bare earth created by the bison dust bathing are good for lizards and rare arable weeds, while their bark stripping creates standing deadwood for fungi and insects such as stag beetles.

The project is to be funded by £1,125,000 from the People's Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.