Tom Gibbs (left) and Donovan Wright, the UK’s first-ever bison rangers, get to know a bison (Gareth Fuller/PA)
The UK’s first ever bison rangers have been chosen after more than 1,000 people from across the world applied to help introduce the huge mammals into ancient woodland in Kent.
A close-knit herd of four European bison is to live in Blean Woods near Canterbury in an effort to restore the habitat.
Newly appointed pair Tom Gibbs and Donovan Wright have now started work in what is one of the largest areas of ancient woodland in the country, ahead of bison arriving into the area in 2022.
The bison ranger roles were created by Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust as part of a major conservation project to restore the ecosystem of the area’s ancient woodlands through nature-based solutions.
Mr Gibbs, who previously worked as conservation officer for Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, said he was thrilled to have been chosen for the “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
He added: “The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
“Unfortunately, sometimes traditional conservation practices haven’t been able to halt these losses, so wilding and using species like bison offer a sustainable approach where nature can take the lead and restore degraded ecosystems and lost species.
“This in turn creates a healthier environment that provides us all with water, food and air, while helping us reconnect with these wild and natural landscapes.”
Joining him is Mr Wright, who has more than 20 years’ experience conducting walking safaris and drives in some of Africa’s most prestigious reserves.
He said: “As well as dealing with the ‘Big 5’ – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo, I have experience working in some extremely remote locations and thinking on my feet.
“I can’t wait to use these skills to help visitors to the Blean experience wild European bison on foot in the UK and show them how they restore nature and increase biodiversity, while working towards the ultimate goal of seeing bison restoring woodlands across the UK.”
Despite their size, with adult males weighing up to a tonne, bison are peaceful, according to experts, and no other species can perform the job of engineering the habitat in the same way.
They fell trees by rubbing up against them and eating the bark, creating areas of space and light in the woods and providing deadwood which will help other plants and animals.
They create patches of bare earth by dust bathing, which can provide habitat for insects and lizards.
The conservation organisations said the bison must be kept in as wild a state as possible to display their natural behaviour and have the greatest positive impact on the environment, so careful management will be essential.
Rangers will be responsible for compliance licences, health checks, safety, maintaining infrastructure such as gates and fences round the project, risk assessment and planning and monitoring visitor interactions with the bison.
The project has been made possible thanks to funding of £1,575,000 raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.