European Rewilding Network

Wilder Blean

Restoring natural processes and keystone species to one of the UKs largest ancient woodland

The Wilder Blean initiative is working to create a wilder woodland landscape by boosting natural grazing, including the introduction of the UK’s first European bison herd.
Off the Fence
Managed by Kent Wildlife Trust for the past 18 years, the woods are a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with extensive grazing techniques – involving (in the past) Highland cattle and more recently Konik horses – used to enhance biodiversity across 150 hectares of the site.
Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe
The Wilder Blean initiative will involve the reintroduction of several species of large herbivores to enhance biodiversity.
A Konik horse with it's foal.
Mark Hamblin/ Wild Wonders of Europe
Heath Fritillary butterfly is one of the flagship species in Wilder Blean.
Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe
Located in the county of Kent in southeast England, the 560-hectare West Blean and Thornden Woods are part of an area of ancient woodland covering 30 square kilometres – the largest area of such woodland in southern England.
Wilder Blean will promote stronger habitats by restoring natural processes that are able to withstand the current environmental crisis and species decline, and in the long run, reverse it.

Kent Wildlife Trust have been managing West Blean and Thornden Woods for the past 18 years. It is a site of Special Scientific Interest for the rare invertebrate assemblage it contains and is an ancient woodland covering 560 hectares. It is part of the much larger blean landscape, the largest area of ancient woodland in Southern England covering around 30 km^2. We have been using extensive grazing techniques on site for more than 10 years using (in the past) Highland cattle and more recently with Konik ponies. Until last year the woodland grazing area covered approximately 150 hectares. However now due to renewed investment and much larger vison working in partnership with the Wildwood Trust we are bringing 460 hectares of land under extensive grazing management using Exmoor ponies, Longhorn Cattle, Iron-age pigs and (in a first for the UK) European Bison to restore ecosystem function. The expanded area is being fenced and the animals should all be in place by spring of 2022. In recent years we have also developed partnerships with neighboring woodland owning organisations to enable the landscape to increase in connectivity.

The project strategy includes new nature-based enterprises to support on-going funding requirements, provide new education opportunities and to support new jobs. This includes guided nature walks and safaris alongside educational visits. It is anticipated that the project will have a positive impact on local businesses, including hotels, campsites, local shops and B&Bs as a result of increased visitor numbers.

Project: Wilder Blean
Region: Kent
Type of protection: Site of Special Scientific Interest
Habitat types: • Deciduous woodland (Oak and Beech dominant)
• Sweet chestnut plantation
• Corsican pine plantation
• Open heathy areas
• Birch scrub
Type of project: Creating space for wilder nature, Increasing interest in the wild through communications, Magnification of rewilding impact and practices
Aim and vision: Wilder Blean is a rewilding project taking place in the Blean Woods situated near Herne Bay, Whitstable, and Canterbury. The project will promote stronger habitats by restoring natural processes that are able to withstand the current environmental crisis and species decline, and in the long run, reverse it.

In the UK, lack of woodland management is one of the eight biggest drivers of species decline. Wilder Blean aims to bring transformational change through a controlled trial with bison; a missing keystone species that is able to naturally manage woodlands. A key part of this project will be extensive consultation and engagement with local landowners, interest groups and residents who know and love this area.

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 behaviours. Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can, they eat bark and create dust baths which each have benefits for many plants and animals, these are functions that have been missing from our UK woodlands for thousands of years and bringing them back can help restore an abundance of wildlife.

Our overall aim is the restoration of natural processes to a lowland English woodland. This will be achieved through 4 main objectives.

1. A large herbivore assemblage reintroduced to the woodland as ecosystem engineers.
2. By creating a more biodiverse, resilient ecosystem.
3. By people at all levels becoming advocates for the project.
4. By creating a model for the rest of the UK, based on international best practice.
Our 25 year vision for Kent is: abundant wildlife has been restored across 30% of land and sea, and is being valued as a critical human life support system.
Uniqueness of the project: First ever use of European bison as natural grazers in the UK. A unique situation of a wildlife park situated adjacent to the largest area of ancient woodland in Southern England giving people a chance to engage with a rewilding project like nowhere else in the UK.
Other activities: Community involved, Eco tourism, Education, High-impact communications, Recreational activities, Research
Results you aim to accomplish in 10 years from now on: That the evidence-based learning from this project has been taken on by other UK projects, local people think of the project as their own and the bison have become a symbol for the area, supporting the local economy. That the site has significantly increased in biodiversity and natural abundance.
Results so far: Over £3million in funding drawn in to support the set up of this project, stable population of Heath Fritillary butterfly. Successful stakeholder engagement campaign leading to good support for the project. International media coverage.
Inspirational value: From working on this project we have found that the British public are far more willing to see nature return to our shores than they get credit for. People know that they are missing out on wildlife experiences and now is the time to put that right. Ambition to make real gains for wildlife at a large scale begets greater investment and therefore we need to dream big if we want to reverse the biodiversity crisis.
Experience you would like to share: Specifications for bison fencing in the UK. Animal crossing points to maintain public access. Stakeholder engagement. Development of an ecological monitoring programme to capture rewilding outcomes. International media experience in conveying rewilding messaging.
Experience you would like to gain: Developing ecotourism opportunities around rewilding projects, how to take projects to the next level through increases in size and with further reintroductions.
Map
Country
UK, England
Start year
2010
Size (ha)
560
Area type
Mixed forests with heath and sandy areas, Temperate deciduous forest
Natural process
Natural grazing
Flagship species
Bison, Feral cattle, Feral horses
Wilder Blean
Wilder Blean
Wilder Blean
The Wilder Blean initiative is working to create a wilder woodland landscape by boosting natural grazing, including the introduction of the UK’s first European bison herd.
Off the Fence
Managed by Kent Wildlife Trust for the past 18 years, the woods are a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with extensive grazing techniques – involving (in the past) Highland cattle and more recently Konik horses – used to enhance biodiversity across 150 hectares of the site.
Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe
The Wilder Blean initiative will involve the reintroduction of several species of large herbivores to enhance biodiversity.
A Konik horse with it's foal.
Mark Hamblin/ Wild Wonders of Europe
Heath Fritillary butterfly is one of the flagship species in Wilder Blean.
Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe
Located in the county of Kent in southeast England, the 560-hectare West Blean and Thornden Woods are part of an area of ancient woodland covering 30 square kilometres – the largest area of such woodland in southern England.
Wilder Blean will promote stronger habitats by restoring natural processes that are able to withstand the current environmental crisis and species decline, and in the long run, reverse it.

Kent Wildlife Trust have been managing West Blean and Thornden Woods for the past 18 years. It is a site of Special Scientific Interest for the rare invertebrate assemblage it contains and is an ancient woodland covering 560 hectares. It is part of the much larger blean landscape, the largest area of ancient woodland in Southern England covering around 30 km^2. We have been using extensive grazing techniques on site for more than 10 years using (in the past) Highland cattle and more recently with Konik ponies. Until last year the woodland grazing area covered approximately 150 hectares. However now due to renewed investment and much larger vison working in partnership with the Wildwood Trust we are bringing 460 hectares of land under extensive grazing management using Exmoor ponies, Longhorn Cattle, Iron-age pigs and (in a first for the UK) European Bison to restore ecosystem function. The expanded area is being fenced and the animals should all be in place by spring of 2022. In recent years we have also developed partnerships with neighboring woodland owning organisations to enable the landscape to increase in connectivity.

The project strategy includes new nature-based enterprises to support on-going funding requirements, provide new education opportunities and to support new jobs. This includes guided nature walks and safaris alongside educational visits. It is anticipated that the project will have a positive impact on local businesses, including hotels, campsites, local shops and B&Bs as a result of increased visitor numbers.

Map
Country
UK, England
Start year
2010
Size (ha)
560
Area type
Mixed forests with heath and sandy areas, Temperate deciduous forest
Natural process
Natural grazing
Flagship species
Bison, Feral cattle, Feral horses
Specification
Project: Wilder Blean
Region: Kent
Type of protection: Site of Special Scientific Interest
Habitat types: • Deciduous woodland (Oak and Beech dominant)
• Sweet chestnut plantation
• Corsican pine plantation
• Open heathy areas
• Birch scrub
Description
Type of project: Creating space for wilder nature, Increasing interest in the wild through communications, Magnification of rewilding impact and practices
Aim and vision: Wilder Blean is a rewilding project taking place in the Blean Woods situated near Herne Bay, Whitstable, and Canterbury. The project will promote stronger habitats by restoring natural processes that are able to withstand the current environmental crisis and species decline, and in the long run, reverse it.

In the UK, lack of woodland management is one of the eight biggest drivers of species decline. Wilder Blean aims to bring transformational change through a controlled trial with bison; a missing keystone species that is able to naturally manage woodlands. A key part of this project will be extensive consultation and engagement with local landowners, interest groups and residents who know and love this area.

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 behaviours. Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can, they eat bark and create dust baths which each have benefits for many plants and animals, these are functions that have been missing from our UK woodlands for thousands of years and bringing them back can help restore an abundance of wildlife.

Our overall aim is the restoration of natural processes to a lowland English woodland. This will be achieved through 4 main objectives.

1. A large herbivore assemblage reintroduced to the woodland as ecosystem engineers.
2. By creating a more biodiverse, resilient ecosystem.
3. By people at all levels becoming advocates for the project.
4. By creating a model for the rest of the UK, based on international best practice.
Our 25 year vision for Kent is: abundant wildlife has been restored across 30% of land and sea, and is being valued as a critical human life support system.
Uniqueness of the project: First ever use of European bison as natural grazers in the UK. A unique situation of a wildlife park situated adjacent to the largest area of ancient woodland in Southern England giving people a chance to engage with a rewilding project like nowhere else in the UK.
Other activities: Community involved, Eco tourism, Education, High-impact communications, Recreational activities, Research
Achievements
Results you aim to accomplish in 10 years from now on: That the evidence-based learning from this project has been taken on by other UK projects, local people think of the project as their own and the bison have become a symbol for the area, supporting the local economy. That the site has significantly increased in biodiversity and natural abundance.
Results so far: Over £3million in funding drawn in to support the set up of this project, stable population of Heath Fritillary butterfly. Successful stakeholder engagement campaign leading to good support for the project. International media coverage.
Exchange
Inspirational value: From working on this project we have found that the British public are far more willing to see nature return to our shores than they get credit for. People know that they are missing out on wildlife experiences and now is the time to put that right. Ambition to make real gains for wildlife at a large scale begets greater investment and therefore we need to dream big if we want to reverse the biodiversity crisis.
Experience you would like to share: Specifications for bison fencing in the UK. Animal crossing points to maintain public access. Stakeholder engagement. Development of an ecological monitoring programme to capture rewilding outcomes. International media experience in conveying rewilding messaging.
Experience you would like to gain: Developing ecotourism opportunities around rewilding projects, how to take projects to the next level through increases in size and with further reintroductions.
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