Wild Bison Are Returning to England’s Forests For First Time in 6,000 Years

A relative of the iconic beast that roams the American Great Plains is going to be released in an ancient forest in Kent, England—where they haven’t resided for 6,000 years.

But the four animals won’t be arriving by way of South Dakota or Wyoming because Europe has their own subspecies—the European wood bison.

The project is slated to begin in Spring of 2022, when a single male Bison bonasus and three females arriving from Poland and the Netherlands will be allowed to roam and reproduce naturally in the remaining wilds of Britain—and it is hoped that their presence will ignite a chain reaction throughout the forest.

Bison have the power to change a forest in dramatic ways; ways that humans don’t have the time or manpower for, and they are being considered as a possible solution to species loss in Great Britain.

The project called Wilder Blean, named for the reintroduction site, West Blean Woods, was organized by the Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT). The experiment isn’t just about bringing the bison back for the sake of something to look at, it’s part of a controlled trial to see if the large herbivore can reinvigorate forest ecosystems more productively than conservationists.

“European bison are being used in this project because they are ecosystem engineers, meaning that they are able to change their environment through their natural behaviors,” explains the KWT on their website. “Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can.”

WATCH: 800-Pound Bison Performs Adorable ‘Happy Dance’ in Celebration of the First Day of Spring

Once ranging across the continent since the last Ice Age, European bison were hunted to extinction in the wild, but have since been reintroduced from captivity into several countries—mostly the forests of Poland, with smaller populations spread out across eastern and southern Europe.

European bison in Germany – Michael Gäbler, CC license

Known as a keystone species, similar to krill in the ocean, tigers in India, or bees in a meadow, bison provide services that allow the ecosystems they live in to operate at a much higher capacity in terms of ecosystem activity. In conservation terms, a keystone species is one that plays a role in the preservation of other species, and the ecology as a whole.

Bison are the forestry experts

Bison kill weak or dead trees by eating their bark or rubbing against them to remove their thick winter fur. This turns the tree into food and habitat for insects, which in turn provide food for birds. The resulting pocket of sunlight allows new plants to grow, replenishing the woodland.

In an unexpected way, the attempted restoration of bison in the English ecosystem is more about halting England’s current species loss than it is about restoring some kind of Stone Age ecology to the island, and while the KWT anticipate a keystone species like Bison bringing additional eyes upon the value of conservation and the health benefits of interacting with great nature, the purpose of the project is to create healthier English forests that can support larger numbers of animals.

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“Using missing keystone species like bison to restore natural processes to habitats is the key to creating bio-abundance in our landscape,” said Paul Hadaway from the KWT.

European bison with calves – Pryndak Vasyl, CC license

Funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, which donated £1.1 million, Wilder Blean will cover 500 hectares (1,236 acres) of the largest area of ancient forest in the UK. Once the bison are established within a 150 hectare parcel, the KWT hopes to reintroduce “iron age pigs” and free-roaming longhorn cattle, in order to make West Blean Wood as near to the original product as possible.

Thousands of years ago, auroch—an enormous species of wild cattle, extinct as recently as the 1600s—would also have roamed the English countryside, and the longhorn cattle are ideal for attempting to replicate the unique effects that the aurochs no doubt had upon the landscape.

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In fact, European bison are likely hybrids of both the extinct subspecies called steppe bison and the auroch, because scientists have analyzed their DNA and found that the animals possess up to 10% of the genetic code of the auroch.

“The partners in the Kent project have long dreamed of restoring the true wild woodlands that have been missing from England for too long,” said Paul Whitfield, of Wildwood Trust, a conservation charity that will monitor the health and welfare of the bison.

“People will be able to experience nature in a way they haven’t before, connecting them back to the natural world around them in a deeper way.”

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Maasai Nature Conservancy Asks For Help To Fight Pandemic—And 100,000 People Answer

The rolling plains of the Maasai Mara in Kenya are home to the famous red-cloaked Maasai people as well as some of the most charismatic animals on earth.

When it became clear COVID-19 would destroy the tourism industry of the Maasai living in the breathtaking Nashulai Nature Conservancy, the tribe petitioned Avaaz, a website connecting local people-powered movements, to try and organize a response call for help.

As a result, 100,000 people raised money to help pay the rangers’ salaries, ensuring that the critical Nashulai elephant migration corridor remained safe from poachers. The money was also enough to secure sanitation and medical supplies and food for the Maasai community there, so they could survive the COVID-19 storm.

About 3,000 people live inside the boundaries of the 6,000-acre conservancy, with another 5,000 living in surrounding communities in traditional Maasai villages where they rely mostly on their cattle for food and money.

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In 2016, Nelson Ole Reiyia and Margaret Koshal Reiyia placed a project on Avaaz to turn their home into a Nature Conservancy. “Avaazers” around the world chipped in with hearts and wallets to launch the Nashulai Maasai Conservancy, an innovative way to help the Maasai maintain their traditional way of live in a harmonious way with the land.

The Conservancy created a way to bring outside capital into the community through offering safaris and camping, as well as cultural homestays and other events.

Nashulai Conservancy – nashulai.com

These community programs brought increasing opportunities for education, established greater food and market security, and needed sanitation facilities.

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The Maasai are famous warriors, and the conservancy established a mighty force against poachers. Professional rangers and young warriors called “moran” who are trained in bush practices, now serves as “The Warriors for Wildlife Protection”, monitoring the animal populations and protecting against poaching.

The Modern Maasai Facing COVID-19

COVID-19 has put much of this in danger. The tourist infrastructure, which 90% of all the Nashulai Maasai depend on for income, has completely collapsed.

The community library has been repurposed as a storehouse for medical equipment—and rationing of food supplies like cornmeal and cooking oil has begun.

With help from Avaaz they’ve been able to pay the rangers’ salaries, and import much needed medical and sanitary supplies.

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“We’ve worked hard to create this unique conservancy, and we want it to be there for the people in their deepest moment of need,” writes Nelson Ole Reiyia on the Nashulai website.

Generous persons can still donate to their COVID-combating activities directly on the website, which are tax deductible contributions for the U.S. and Canada.

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White Storks Have Hatched The First Wild Chicks Born in England in 600 Years

The babies brought by these storks weren’t delivered in blankets.

The White Stork Project was delighted to announce last week that wild storks in West Sussex have hatched their very own babies—and it is believed to be the first time in England since the 1400s.

On a private estate used for stork conservation called the Knepp site, five eggs appeared in a nest high up in an oak tree. After 33 days of incubation, and much tending by the pair of storks, the first chick hatched on May 6.

White Stork Project Officer Lucy Groves watched as eggshell was removed from the nest and the parents were seen regurgitating food for the new chicks to eat.

This is the same pair that attempted to breed at Knepp last year without success. The female is a ringed bird from the project, which came to Knepp in 2016 from Poland. The male, however, has no identifying ring, so this is likely to be one of the twenty or so vagrant storks which visit the UK each year.

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“The parents have been working hard and are doing a fantastic job, especially after their failed attempt last year,” said Groves excitedly. “It is incredible to have the first white stork chicks hatch in the wild for hundreds of years here at Knepp.”

There are two other breeding pairs on the property with six eggs having hatched in two of the nests.

“These are early days for the chicks, and we will be monitoring them closely, but we have great hopes for them.”

Photo Credit Brad Albrecht / White Stork Project

A total of three private estates have constructed 6-acre predator-proof pens where storks have been introduced.

166 rehabilitated wild-fledged white storks from Poland, as well as a small number of others from northern France, have been released into these pens over the course of the last three years, in order to establish local breeding populations, based on the successful approach used to restore white stork populations in Europe over the last 50 years.

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The co-owner of the Knepp estate, Isabella Tree, said that when she hears the clattering sound coming from the tops of their oak trees “it feels like a sound from the Middle Ages has come back to life.”

By Lukáš Kadava

“We watch them walking through the long grass on their long legs, kicking up insects and deftly catching them in their long beaks as they go – there’s no other bird that does that in the UK.”

Lucy says, especially now, the birth brings hope: “This stunning species has really captured people’s imagination during the period of lockdown and it’s been great hearing about the joy and hope they have brought to people.”

It is an exciting first step toward reestablishing 20 wild pairs of these majestic birds at each of the three locations—bringing them back into the south of England once again.

WATCH a new video from the project…

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100 Year-old Bachelorette Tortoise May Be the Last of Her Species – But She Has New Hope for a Boyfriend

Last year, in the recently expanded Galapagos Islands National Park, scientists made a “monumental” discovery when they found a solitary female tortoise on one of the islands where tortoises were thought to be extinct for over 100 years.

Because of its location, the animal was presumed to belong to the extinct species only found on that island, Chelonoidis phantasticus, the Fernandina giant tortoise, named for the Fernandina Island, one of the youngest and most volcanically-active in the famous Galapagos Archipelago.

The matriarchal tortoise is believed to be over 100 years-old, and it was immediately transferred to the giant tortoise breeding center on Santa Cruz Island and plans were made for a return to Fernandina to try and track down a mate.

In the meantime, blood samples were sent to Yale University to determine whether or not she is indeed a member of the extinct species.

Two months ago, in December 2019, a team of 10 scientists and park rangers ventured to the island and found evidence that confirmed the presence of at least one more turtle on the island.

“The trails suggest that there is still at least one tortoise on the island, but the dense vegetation, especially ferns, made it impossible to locate,” said Washington Tapia, Director of the Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative.

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A follow-up expedition on January 24th failed when Fernandina’s resident volcano, La Cumbre, began erupting, creating impossible weather conditions for tortoise hunting.

In a call yesterday to the Galapagos Conservancy, GNN learned that the blood test results from Yale have not yet been completed. The Virginia-based Conservancy, one of the primary organizations involved in the Fernandina tortoise project, is still hoping to find a second tortoise to help confirm the exact species of the female found in 2019.

Fernandina female – Courtesy of Galapagos National Park Directorate

“Right now there is only one extant sample in the world and that’s a taxidermy male tortoise collected in 1906,” Johannah Barry, President of the Galapagos Conservancy told GNN.

Barry says it’s prudent to point out that just because the old gal was found on an island where the resident tortoise species is the Fernandina, doesn’t automatically make her one—because, as Barry points out, sailors from the 1950s, and even the 1960s, were often moving tortoises around.

“I can understand why people are excited. It’s either going to be, ‘wow, it’s a Fernandina tortoise,’ or ‘wow, it’s not.’”

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The last time one of these tortoises had been seen in the Galapagos was 112 years ago, a male—and there is no record of ever seeing a female. So, a positive identification from Yale biologists would turn out to be a very big ‘wow’ indeed.

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World’s Last Known ‘Dinosaur Trees’ Saved From Australian Bushfires Thanks to Determined Firefighters

Conservationists are celebrating the success of a mission to save the world’s last remaining “dinosaur trees” from the Australian bushfires.

The ancient Wollemi Pine was thought to be extinct until a small grouping of the prehistoric trees was discovered in the mountains roughly 124 miles northwest (200 kilometers) of Sydney back in 1996.

Fossil records show that the pines existed as far back as 200 million years ago—and since these 200 trees are the only known Wollemi Pines left in the wild, their location has remained a closely-kept secret in order to ensure their protection.

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When Australian legislators heard that the bushfires—which have been raging across New South Wales since September—were edging closer to the Wollemi grove, a team of specialized firefighters was airlifted onto the scene.

“These pines outlived the dinosaurs, so when we saw the fire approaching we realized we had to do everything we could to save them,” said New South Wales state Environment Minister Matt Kean.

Just one week before the fires hit the surrounding forests, the firefighters sprayed the trees with fire retardant and installed an irrigation system to keep the area moist. As the fire drew closer, air tankers dumped water around the perimeter of the grove and kept the flames at bay.

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Although a few of the dinosaur trees were lightly singed by the blaze, the safety measures successfully protected the grove—and the surrounding fires were reportedly contained earlier this week.

Richard Kingsford, director of the Center for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW, hailed the firefighting success to The Sydney Morning Herald: “This is such a remarkable species in terms of ecology and evolution … and only found in Australia.”

“It’s something like the Opera House of the natural world,” he added. “Losing it would have added to the catastrophe we have seen elsewhere.”

(WATCH the AFP news coverage below) – Photo by AFP News Agency

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