Kent’s youngest ecosystem engineer welcomed to herd
First ‘Wilder Blean’ bison calf is born in the UK.
- The pitter patter of tiny hooves is ringing out across an ancient Canterbury woodland as Wilder Blean bison gives birth to female calf.
- The welcome addition was unexpected for rangers, as bison conceal their pregnancies to avoid being targeted by predators.
- The calf is the fourth member to join the herd, living in West Blean and Thornden Woods as part of The Wilder Blean Project, a wilding initiative to help combat the climate and biodiversity crises.
- They will be joined by a bull within the next two months.
- The calf has developed well. She loves to play in the rain and copy the other bisons’ iconic dust-bathing behaviour.
- Charities appeal for donations to help continue their work.
- The first phase of the Wilder Blean Project was enabled through funds raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.
The UK’s first Bison Rangers were surprised to be greeted by a calf when carrying out checks on a herd of bison in West Blean and Thornden Woods, near Canterbury last month.
Tom Gibbs and Donovan Wright have been keeping a watchful eye over three female bison since July after they were released into the ancient woodland to re-shape the landscape as part of a Wilder Blean project. This wilding initiative is a result of a collaboration between the charities Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, to combat the climate and biodiversity crises. Bison act as ecosystem engineers, creating light and space for wildlife to thrive through their natural behaviours.
Dream Fund 2020
The project has been Supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery through Dream Fund 2020.
The birth – which was discovered on 9th September – was unexpected for Bison Rangers Tom Gibbs and Donovan Wright, as bison do not display obvious signs of pregnancy.
Ranger Tom explains:
“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.
“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 release in July, which received global attention, the matriarch 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.”
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 now privileged to be part of that journey.”
The birth of the calf was not announced immediately by Kent Wildlife Trust or Wildwood Trust, as the nation had entered a period of mourning following the death of Her Majesty the Queen, one day prior on Thursday 8 September. It was felt that, whilst the news was joyous, the right and respectful thing to do was to allow time for the nation to mourn.
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.”
Donate via ‘JustGiving’
The charities are inviting people to support the growing herd and the Wilder Blean project. By supporting this pioneering wilding project, you can help them provide the best possible environment for Kent’s youngest ecosystem engineer, because if nature thrives, we do too. Find out more and donate to the Wilder Blean Project today.