Beavers, bison and returning beasts: Rewilding the UK

There is something deeply heartening about an extinct native species being reintroduced to its former habitat. In the United Kingdom, there are several of those stories.

The last time storks were recorded breeding in the UK was way back in 1416 on top of a cathedral in Edinburgh. This year, nests on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex produced the first wild-born chicks in 600 years. The parent birds were bred in captivity and released into the wild as part of a reintroduction project started in South East England.

Another project that began 30 years ago in the Chiltern Hills in southern England is also reaping conservation rewards. In 1990, 13 red kites were flown in from Spain as part of a plan to reintroduce the species to the area after its population had all but disappeared across the UK. Today, nearly 2,000 breeding pairs – almost 10 percent of the entire global population – soar above virtually every English county.

And in Kent, there will soon be a more distant beastly association with the British Isles’ wildlife past. Wild bison are set to return for the first time in 6,000 years with the release of a small number planned for 2022. The first of the endangered animals will be brought in from Poland or the Netherlands.

The benefits of beavers

It has been 400 years since beavers lived naturally in the wild in England. Now a group that was discovered in Devon in 2013 has been granted permission to stay after a five-year reintroduction trial showed their dam-building activities were good for wildlife.

It was found that other creatures, including fish, insects, birds and water voles had benefitted from the beavers’ presence and that their dams had reduced the risk of flooding to some human homes.

“This is the most groundbreaking government decision for England’s wildlife for a generation,” Peter Burgess, director of conservation at Wildlife Trust, told Reuters news agency.

“Beavers are nature’s engineers and have the unrivalled ability to breathe new life into our rivers and wetlands.”

There are issues of conflict, especially with farmers concerned about flooding caused by beavers. So efforts are under way to craft an acceptable management approach for an ancient species returning to a very different landscape from the one it used to live in.

The same goes for the possible reintroduction of lynx and wolves. The strategy of returning apex predators clearly has to be very carefully assessed.

 

 

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