Special bridges are due to be built over woodland paths allowing wild bison to roam their natural habitat.
Rangers did not want to disturb the wild animal’s home and humans are banned from walking through their new conservation area.
So researchers came up with the idea of bridges over public footpaths in order to avoid cutting down the bison’s space and allowing the beasts to explore freely – crossing roads and paths that currently block their way.
A rewilding scheme launched last July saw a group of four bison reintroduced to woods in West Blean and Thornden Woods between Canterbury and Herne Bay in Kent, England.
It is the first of its kind in the UK and hoped to be a trailblazer for other areas to follow suit.
The project was designed to create an environment encouraging biodiversity to make the woodland more resilient to climate change.
The herd roam an area of 200 hectares but so far, the bison have been living in just 50 hectares of the forest.
If they were left to roam freely, humans could come into contact with the animals as the ancient woodland has several footpaths running through it – but the Dangerous Wild Animal (DWA) Legislation states bison cannot share the same space as the public.
As a result, a team at the Wilder Blean came up with a way of helping the bison move across the landscape by building ‘bison bridges’ so they can pass under the footpaths and wander around a larger habitat.
A spokesman for the project said: “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.”
Stan Smith, project manager at the Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “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.”
Permission to build four viewing platforms around the 500-acre enclosure – the size of 1,000 football pitches – was rejected by Canterbury City Council last year.
But the authority has now approved the proposal for the new scheme, which could lead to more bridges in the future, allowing wildlife to walk under other public roads.
Smith added: “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.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Kyana Jeanin Rubinfeld and Arnab Nandy
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