UK's first wild bison calf to be born for thousands of years roams ancient woodland in Kent

Photo credit: Gemma Day / Video credit: Kent Wildlife Trust & Wildwood Trust

The UK's first wild bison calf to be born for thousands of years, is now roaming ancient woodland in Kent.

The female calf is the fourth member to join the herd living in West Blean and Thornden Woods, north of Canterbury.

The female calf was a surprise for rangers, as bison conceal their pregnancies to avoid being targeted by predators.

She was spotted while rangers were carrying out checks on the animals.

The bison were introduced in July as part of the Wilder Blean project, which is a partnership between Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, to help tackle the climate crisis.

The bison act as ecosystem engineers, managing the woods, creating light and space for wildlife to thrive through their natural behaviours.

Despite their size, bison are peaceful animals whose ability to fell trees by rubbing up against them and eating the bark, gives space for other plants and animals to thrive.

The bison calf was a pleasant surprise for rangers who spotted her while carrying out checks. Credit: Donovan Wright

Rangers say the calf is developing well, loves to play in the rain and copy the other bisons' iconic dust-bathing behaviour.

The herd will be joined by a bull within the next two months.

Tom Gibbs, ranger, said: "It is difficult to detect pregnancy in bison as they naturally conceal being in calf to avoid being hunted by predators, it is a survival mechanism.

"Though it was a surprise to see that the younger female bison had given birth, it was always a possibility, and we have created a care plan for the calf to ensure her needs are met.

"These animals are wild, so we want to remain as hands-off as possible, but their welfare is at the absolute heart of what we do.

"She is being observed by experts and we are constantly monitoring the whole herd to ensure their wellbeing.

Photo & video credit: Donovan Wright

"We always hoped that the bison would breed, but it is fair to say we were not anticipating it quite so soon.

"We are also preparing for the arrival of a bull from Germany within the next few-months so we will be carefully planning how that introduction is made to ensure they bond well and act as a herd should.

"This is now an incredibly important time for this family of eco-system engineers and we understand that people will want to catch a glimpse of this new addition, however we ask people to consider the impact they may have and ask that they are given the space and time they need to bond."

Since their arrival, the matriarch of the herd, from Scotland, has bonded well with the two younger females from Ireland.

The matriarch leads the herd, often giving the young females the confidence to explore the woodland and source new food.

Mark Habben, Director of Zoo Operations at the Wildwood Trust, said: "When the bison took their first steps into the wild just weeks ago, it was hard to imagine that anything could come close to the elation we felt in that moment.

"But here we are celebrating the arrival of a bison calf.

"Ground breaking projects like this, by their nature, always carry an element of the unexpected but this addition to the herd has come as a significant surprise, albeit a very welcome one.

"Unlike domestic cattle, bison show very few signs of pregnancy and it is not uncommon for them to travel without impact to their welfare.

"When the herd arrived they were calm and settled quickly, a sign that the transportation process had not put them under significant duress.

"We are delighted that mother and calf are both doing well and look forward to watching the herd continue to grow and flourish in the coming months."

The calf is settling well into her new environment. Credit: Donovan Wright

Paul Hadway, Director of Conservation of Kent Wildlife Trust said: "This is an exciting development within a pioneering project.

"European Bison are an incredible species, which were on the brink of extinction after the first World War.

"To think that their numbers now swell beyond 9,000 is a true testament to the commitment and dedication of international breeding efforts and, as an organisation, Kent Wildlife Trust are privileged to now be part of that journey."

The birth of the calf on September 9, was not announced immediately as the nation had entered a period of mourning following the death of Her Majesty the Queen, one day prior.

The first phase of the million pound project was paid for by the People's Postcode Lottery Fund.

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery added: "We are delighted that support from our players for the Wilder Blean programme is helping in the fight to protect and enhance biodiversity.

"It's great to see this now coming to fruition and, by welcoming the next generation of bison, a healthy ecosystem in the West Blean and Thornden Woods can continue for years to come."