Science | Geography | PSHE

‘Woolly bulldozers’ roam England once more

Can rewilding save the planet? Today, bison are roaming Britain for the first time in 1,000 years as part of a plan to save woodland. And these giant beasts are just the start. The three great animals walked out cautiously into the woods of Wilder Blean in Kent. The matriarchA female leader of a family or community. had come from the Highland wildlife park in Scotland, and the two younger females from Fota IslandA wildlife sanctuary in County Cork. in Ireland. They had no idea they were part of a visionary new experiment. “We want Wilder Blean to mark the beginning of a new era for conservation in the UK,” said the head of Kent Wildlife Trust. The idea is to use “natural engineers” like bison, boar and beaver to change the landscape. Many ancient woods in Britain have been turned into commercialRun or maintained to make a profit. forests. Their tall, thickly planted pine trees block out sunlight and make it hard for many species to survive. Bison – the biggest land mammalsA male bison can weigh as much as one tonne. in Europe – can turn back the clock. They have been called “nature’s woolly bulldozers”. They can make paths through dense groups of trees, clearing away unwanted ones. By taking dust baths, they create patches of bare earth. They also spread seeds via their fur and dung. All this should help plants, insects, birds, bats and lizards. The three female bison will be joined by a male in August, and it is hoped that they will produce calves in the next year or so. They will eventually have over 400 acres of woods to roam, with special “bison tunnels” to take them under public footpaths. Other animals which treat landscape in the same way will live there too, such as Exmoor poniesNamed after an area of Devon and Somerset where they roam freely., Longhorn cattleAn English breed with horns curving around the face. and iron-age pigsThey actually date from the 1980s, when an ordinary pig was crossed with a wild boar to create something close to an ancient pig.. Wild bison nearly died out in Europe a century ago. But thanks to careful breeding and rewilding there are now over 7,000 of them. Rewilding has many supporters, including the singer Ellie Goulding. But not everyone agrees with her. In The Spectator, Harry Mount argues against “the misguided view that nature is beautiful and anything done by man is ugly".  Can rewilding save the planet? Trialling rewilding Yes: Nature always knows how best to do things, creating a balance which man has disastrously disrupted. We need to get back to the way things were before humans changed the land through agriculture.   

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