Second calf birth 'best present' for Kent bison project

  • Video credit: Kent Wildlife Trust & Wildwood Trust

A second calf has been born into the Blean bison project with the breeding programme calling it the "best present" in time for Christmas.

The Blean bison project matriarch of the herd fell pregnant shortly after the bull arrived from Germany in December 2022.

The calf is part of a breeding programme looking to support vulnerable species and benefit species recovery.

The award-winning, pioneering Blean bison project, which is a partnership between the charities Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, uses bison as ecosystem engineers an alternative to woodland management.

It's the first calf to be conceived and born in West Blean and Thornden Woods Credit: Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust

The next phase of the Wilder Blean involves working with RSPB, Woodland Trust and landowners through the “Wilder Blean Initiative” to connect over 8,300 hecatres of the Blean complex across East Kent.

The herd was introduced into West Blean and Thornden Woods in 2022, firstly in July with three females, one of whom unexpectedly gave birth in September and then later the bull in December, who had been delayed due to post-Brexit paperwork complications.

The latest arrival and sixth member of the herd is the first to have been conceived and born in the woodland from the specially selected founding herd.

The bison are a nature-based Solution to woodland management, shaping the habitat around them without the need for machinery and human intervention.

The project is the first of its kind in the UK and intends to act as a blueprint for others to run similar wilding initiatives in the future.

Bison and Conservation Grazing Ranger Hannah Mackins: “This is the best present we could have asked for, our founding members successfully breeding so soon after their introduction.

“The matriarch is 19 years old, and we were aware that she had difficulties in a previous pregnancy, but in the Wilder Blean environment we have the benefit of the woodland environment and being able to monitor her several times a day and she has done so well. She is an amazing Mum and we are so proud of her.

"This joyous addition to the herd demonstrates the project is making excellent progress in species recovery by supporting this vulnerable species. Unlike the first calf to be born in the woodland, this birth was not a complete surprise for the rangers."

Bison are a huge conservation success story by their sheer existence. After World War One, the number of European bison had fallen dramatically, and the species were on the verge of extinction.

A decision was made to attempt to save them and a founding herd of 12 were brought together from private zoo collections to take the first steps towards a breeding programme.

The project has been recognised with the Gold standard award at the Global Good Awards, winning the Biodiversity Protection Award at the National Sustainability Awards and scooping the Innovation Award at the Big Biodiversity Challenge.

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