Bison in the Blean

This week we joined a small group on a Kent Wildlife Trust walk around West Blean Woods, near Canterbury. These woods are only about twenty miles from the meadows but are on acidic clay rather than our calcareous chalk and that makes a big difference to the plants and animals to be found there. The Trust are going to be introducing European Bison into West Blean next year as part of a wilding scheme and also to help them manage the wood.

They hope that the Bison will provide a nature-based solution to the problem of properly managing such a large area of woodland. These big and heavy animals are ecosystem engineers – they will knock some trees over, creating fallen deadwood and, because they eat bark in the winter, this will kill trees resulting in standing deadwood, both of which are really important for biodiversity. Their browsing will also keep the vegetation open and naturally coppiced.

European Bison bull. From Talks Presenters 09 at English Wikipedia.

Thousands of years ago, Britain would have had Steppe Bison roaming the land – a species that is now extinct. European Bison are similar, although they themselves were hunted to extinction in the wild in 1919. A small number, however, remained in captivity which included only two males and it is from these two bulls that the whole of the current global population of 6,000 has grown. Bison are highly susceptible to problems caused by inbreeding and so great care has had to be taken to avoid this.

So, six Bison are arriving at Blean woods next year from populations in Continental Europe, including one bull and one mature female. Five very large paddocks are being created for this small herd which the Trust hopes will slowly grow in number over several years. Iron Age Pigs, Highland Cattle and Konik Horses will also be managing the wood although only the pigs will be in with the Bison.

Land in the first paddock that we walked around. All the fencing has been ordered and work will start in the autumn.
Some ponds were created in the paddocks last winter as a water source for the Bison
Even though the pond is only new, it already has Grass Snakes
The snake can open its mouth up in an unexpectedly enormous way
This land has been cleared for the fencing to go up, although work is currently stopped for the bird nesting season.
Two paddocks are going to join at this point with a tunnel for the Bison to pass through. The tunnel will be at ground level and the track will be ramped up over it. It is hoped that these ramps will also provide a viewing platform to allow the public to see the Bison as they approach the tunnel.

It is a very exciting and ground breaking experiment and is about to kick off in earnest in the next few months. I am so pleased that we got the opportunity to have a look round first before it all starts.

The Blean is home to a thriving population of one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, the Heath Fritillary. We were there on a sunny, hot day and we saw so many of them:

Cow Wheat is the larval food plant of the Heath Fritillary. It is an acidic soil specialist and is partly parasitic on the roots of nearby plants
Wood Ants are an important part of the ecosystem. Interestingly, the Cow Wheat plant attracts Wood Ants to it by producing a sugary liquid from glands at the base of its petals. The seeds of the plant look very much like the ants’ cocoons and so the ants carry them back to the nest, thus dispersing the seed.
We also saw a White Admiral Butterfly in the Blean
This bank in the foreground, with a second one towards the back of the photo, are the remnants of the Radfall, a medieval droveway through the wood, used to move livestock to and from the fertile coastal grazing pastures. The banks and ditches formed boundaries at the edges of the Radfall, preventing the animals from wandering into the woodland and browsing valuable coppice shoots
Valerian flowering below the white cliffs

Down at our local white cliffs on Monday, it looked like the family of Kestrels were ready to fledge. There were four young in there:

Four young Kestrels in their nest in the cliff – you can just see the eye of the one at the very back

When we got back from the Blean on Thursday, there was an adult and two juvenile Kestrels soaring and calling over the meadows and so it looks like they have now fledged:

This summer could not be more different to the previous one and we are certainly enjoying not having to water the pots and allotment.

A slow meander around the meadows noticing the minutiae always turns up something of interest:

This snail has a lot of growing to do before it fits its shell
Interesting to see its alimentary canal and also the dark spot at the end of its tentacle, which is an eye. There is a lens in that eye but it can’t focus the image with it or see colours. It can however, judge different intensities of light
Scabious is now flowering in the meadows and is so popular with invertebrates. I also have lots planted in pots around the house
Sicus ferruginous. This sinister-looking fly with its curled abdomen is a parasitoid of various bumblebees
They are often to be seen paired up
Crab spider lurking on a grass head
This is the caterpillar of the Six-spot Burnet Moth….
The Burnet caterpillars then form these pupae on grass stems….
…and then hatch into an adult Moth. This is the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moth
After a really slow start to the mothing year, I am now finally getting large and interesting catches in the trap. There were five of these spectacular Privet Hawkmoth one morning
The Magpie is another beautiful moth
All the work that the adult Blue Tit has been doing to raise its family has clearly been taking its toll. Blue Tit fledgling on the left.
We were amazed to see this Goodyear Blimp come silently over. Launched from Calais, this is its first visit to the UK for ten years, to advertise an event at Brands Hatch.
I like this action pose from the male Herring Gull

I was back in Berkshire this week to visit my father and, as usual, parked near the church at Little Marlow to go birding at Spade Oak Nature Reserve. I love this little church – it feels so quintessentially English

Saint John the Baptist Church at Little Marlow, the photo taken over Easter when it was beautifully decorated. The church dates back nearly a thousand years to the 12th century which is pretty hard to get your head round

We always walk round the churchyard first to see what birds are about but this time all our attention was riveted on this newly built insect hotel:

This is a thing of beauty as well as being a fantastic sanctuary for wildlife. I have an extreme case of Insect Hotel Envy.

One thought on “Bison in the Blean

  1. Fab post. Good news about the bison. It will be great to see them when they arrive. Aw, those kestrels! Had a sparrowhawk visit my back yard again. Only fleeting! I don’t want it to eat my sparrows, they have only just returned after the hawk caught one in January. Great photo of the grass 🐍 snake. And one seriously impressive bug hotel. X

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