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How does a bison cross the road?


Plans to connect 200 hectares for bison approved by Canterbury Council

Kent Wildlife Trust have successfully solved the riddle most people did not know existed ‘How does a bison cross the road?’


The answer – bison bridges, and now the plans to place them in a woodland on the outskirts of Canterbury have been approved.


The UK’s only free roaming bison herd have been living within West Blean and Thornden Woods since July. They were released as part of a pioneering wilding project, where, through their natural behaviours, they create an environment that encourages biodiversity whilst shaping the landscape to make it more resilient to climate change.


The intended roaming area for the herd is 200 hectares but so far, the bison have been living in 50 hectares of the forest. The ancient woodland has several footpaths and permissible paths running through it and this has presented a challenge to the project as Dangerous Wild Animal (DWA) Legislation dictates the bison cannot share the same space as the public.


Stan Smith, project manager, Kent Wildlife Trust, explained: ‘The DWA legislation posed a problem as to how we can allow the public to access the site whilst also giving the bison the opportunity to freely choose where they graze.


‘We did not want to re-route the public rights of way, community engagement is one of the fundamental objectives of the project, so taking away the public’s opportunity to see the bison was not an option.


‘We could have temporarily closed the paths and encouraged the bison to move from one part of the woodland to another with food, but again this would be in opposition to our guiding principles of allowing these ecosystem engineers to be wild. We want them to go where they choose naturally and by interfering with that, we are contradicting the scientific approach that underlines the whole project.’


The Wilder Blean team deliberated on how they would allow the bison to move across the landscape and following extensive research drew up plans for bison bridges. The bridges have a gradual gradient, for people to walk across with viewing points on the top to view the woodland, or, if they are lucky, catch a glimpse of the herd as they roam.


Picture courtesy: Donovan Wright.


Stan continued, ‘We were delighted that Canterbury City Council have approved the plans and whilst there are conditions attached to that, we are excited to begin the next phase of the project.


‘This allows us to take realistic steps towards connecting the landscapes. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and we need to start thinking differently about how wildlife moves from site to site.


‘We are in discussions with other charities and landowners with the intention of connecting the Blean complex, which would allow wildlife greater access to high conservation grade woodland. We have the ultimate ambition of installing green bridges which would see wildlife move from one side of Canterbury to the other, across the A2.


‘Our plans are ambitious, and we are pioneers in our field. To move towards our goal, we now need to fund the bison bridges and have already begun raising money to make it happen. There are various ways people can help, from corporate sponsorship to private donations. Every person who contributes will be helping transform our landscapes and create a Kent that is wilder and more resilient to climate change.’


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