Head to Kent this spring and there’s a chance you’ll encounter an animal that hasn’t roamed the Garden of England for thousands of years. We’re talking bison, those huge chunks of fur and muscle probably better known for roaming North America than Europe. But European bison are actually a separate species from their American cousins - and while they were hunted to extinction in the wild, they are now making a comeback.
It’s not just in the UK that European bison are back on the rise. They have been reintroduced all over the continent, from Romania to Spain, and they are thriving. Gradually, from year to year, the European bison population is recovering.
And bison aren’t the only animals brought back across Europe. Beavers have been reintroduced to more than 26 countries across the continent and, after being returned to the wild in Poland in the 1950s, the gray wolf is making a comeback as far as the Netherlands, Belgium and even the south-west of France.
Bird species are also booming. Red kites were reintroduced to England from Spain in the 1990s and can now be seen in virtually every countywhile ospreys have also recovered from near extinction across Wales and England.
Species are reintroduced to areas after careful research of local habitats and careful consideration of the interests of the people who live and work there. After that, a species can either be transported from elsewhere or trained in captivity so that it thrives in a new area. Another policy, as seen with wolves, is to simply not hunt the animals, thus letting them thrive and spread.
If you’re wondering what the point of all this is, well, reintroducing species has many benefits. Many see it as a return to a more resilient and diverse natural environment. But reintroduced species can also actively support other wildlife and habitats, whether by driving away pests, supporting wildlife, or generally restoring a natural balance. They can also boost tourism – as seen with the reintroduction of the sea eagle to Scotland’s Isle of Mull, which has apparently transformed the region into a a magnet for wildlife watchers.
So, which species could be the next to be reintroduced? Well, a large number of species have been wiped out by humans across Europe over thousands of years – so there’s no shortage of choice. Currently on the agenda are lynx, bears, vultures, wild horses, gray seals and wolverines. In other words, much of Europe could see its wildlife totally transformed (for the better, of course) over the next few decades.
To find out more and see a more comprehensive list of currently reintroduced species, see the Rewilding Europe website here.
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