Rangers sought for bison herd in UK conservation first

Jobs as the UK’s first bison rangers are being advertised as part of a scheme to introduce the huge mammals into ancient woodland in Kent.

Two people are being sought by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust, as part of their Wilder Blean project to restore Blean Woods, near Canterbury.

The European bison, the continent’s largest land mammal, is the closest living relative to ancient steppe bison that would have once roamed Britain and naturally managed the habitat, conservationists said.

A close-knit herd of four European bison will be introduced into a 200-hectare (500-acre) fenced enclosure in the woods, in what is the first time the animals have been brought to a nature reserve to help wildlife in the UK.

Bison at The Wildwood Trust (Tom Cawdron/PA)
Bison at The Wildwood Trust (Tom Cawdron/PA)

Despite their size, with adult males weighing up to a tonne, bison are peaceful, according to experts, and no other species can perform the job of engineering the habitat in the same way.

They fell trees by rubbing up against them and eating the bark, creating areas of space and light in the woods and providing deadwood which will help other plants and animals.

They create patches of bare earth by dust bathing, which can provide habitat for insects and lizards.

The conservation organisations said the bison must be kept in as wild a state as possible to display their natural behaviour and have the greatest positive impact on the environment, so careful management will be essential.

The #WilderBlean Project is an exciting new venture using principles of wilding management.

We’re excited to offer, with @KentWildlife , two new positions for bison rangers 🦬

Find out more at: https://t.co/90k9Q3moPE#bison#wilding#rewilding#nature#naturebasedsolutionspic.twitter.com/Mulj2YEzvf

— Wildwood Trust 🌳🐾 (@WildwoodTrust) January 12, 2021

Rangers will be responsible for compliance licences, health checks, safety, maintaining infrastructure such as gates and fences round the project, risk assessment and planning and monitoring visitor interactions with the bison.

Training for the role will include time at several sites with bison in the Netherlands managed by nature organisation ARK Natuur Ontwikkeling, to help the rangers understand how to manage free-ranging bison.

Candidates are not expected to have significant experience with bison, but do need ecological knowledge, understanding of animal behaviour and a passion to tell others about the animals, which arrive in spring 2022.

Stan Smith, wilder landscapes manager at Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a truly unique role for the UK, it’s a chance to manage a free-roaming herd of Europe’s largest living land mammal and to develop an entirely new skill set which will enable the success of this and future wilding projects.

“This is a first step to European bison becoming more frequent tools for the restoration of ecosystems in Britain and for two individuals to get to know these animals like no other.”

A view of trees in Blean Woods (Ray Lewis/PA)
A view of trees in Blean Woods (Ray Lewis/PA)

Mark Habben, head of living collections at the Wildwood Trust, said it would be “the job of a lifetime” for two people who are passionate about conservation and nature.

He said the successful individuals will also work closely with the resident bison and experts at the Wildwood Trust’s wildlife park.

“This is a unique job and a first of its kind to be advertised in Britain. European bison are a fascinating, important species in the UK and we look forward to the positive impact that they will have when inhabiting the Blean Woods.”

The project is being funded with £1,125,000 raised by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, as part of the Dream Fund, which was created to give charities and good causes the opportunity to deliver their dream project over a two-year period.