Rewilding – to “restore (an area of land) to its natural uncultivated state (used especially with reference to the reintroduction of species of wild animal that have been driven out or exterminated).” (OED, 2021).
Rewilding has been an ever contentious though thriving term and topic amongst the environmental communities and now mainstream media in the last few years. One of the most prominent and perhaps important Rewilding projects in the UK is happening in our very own Blean Woods. Where European Bison are being reintroduced since being hunted to extinction in the UK (Rewilding Britain, 2021).
Projects that are considered to be ‘Rewilding’ projects are conservation activities that aim to restore natural areas of land and sea back to the state they existed in before human degradation occurred. Rewilding is seen to be a climate crisis mitigating activity, regenerating areas back to their once biodiverse states (True Nature Foundation, 2021).
There are 3 main methods of Rewilding (Bakker and Svenning, 2018):
Pleistocene Rewilding – is the re-introduction of apex predators or key species (megafauna), in order to rebalance skewed food chains and ecosystems. During the ‘Pleistocene’ epoch (after the last Ice Age), there was a mass extinction of megafauna, and as a result there is a movement for bringing back these once keystone species. An example of Pleistocene Rewilding would be the Bison Project in West Blean Woods.
Passive Rewilding – is the hands-off approach that looks to reduce human intervention in the local environment. With the intention of letting nature thrive and develop by itself. Farmland is often used for Passive Rewilding, where an area might be left to its own devices.
Translocation Rewilding – involves the reintroduction of recently extinct species that were previously local to the area of interest. Translocation Rewilding can take the form of ‘reinforcing’ and supporting a local population, or in some cases complete ‘reintroductions’. An example being the proposed reintroduction of wolves into Scotland, an environment they were present in until as late as 1888.
There remains a common goal; conserve the environment and restore it ecologically in a way that increases biodiversity, nurtures self-sustaining environments and mitigates the impact of climate change.
Once an abundant species throughout Europe, the European Bison was hunted into extinction from the last Ice Age until the last wild individual was shot in Poland in 1919. In 1950 there were only 60 left in various zoos and private collections, and since, there has been a collaborative effort of re-introduction throughout Europe, where the current count is around 7500 Bison (Rewilding Europe, 2021).
Having taken much inspiration from 4 very successful Rewilding projects in the Netherlands, European Bison were the keystone species chosen to be the protagonists of the Rewilding project in Blean Woods. Often referred to as “ecosystem engineers” (as are Beavers), Bison are unique in the way they interact with their environment, and very different from horses, cows, or deer. Bison primarily eat the bark off select species of trees, subsequently creating areas of sunlight in often congested forests, allowing the forest floor to thrive. The bison are able to facilitate what is known as a “3-dimensional habitat”, from the canopy to the forest floor, triggering a domino effect that re-stabilises the food chain by bringing back plants, insects, rodents, and birds that aren’t able to survive in the sunlight deprived woodlands we see so often today. In doing so, the Bison, completely unaware of their compounded impact, and are able to kickstart and restore areas of woodland floor that might have been stifled for decades (Rewilding Britain, 2021).
Whilst an area of unique natural beauty, and a secluded forest escape for many, Blean Woods, alike so many of our most treasured natural spaces is in need of our attention, and particularly the forest floor. West Blean Woods was chosen to be ground zero for the Rewilding project for European Bison in the UK, but was also picked to be one of our signature scents, in the form of an Eau de Parfum and Candle. The scent profile reads:
‘The natural core of the landscape, a location that is further inland than any other scent we have created and by far the most undisturbed. The citrus freshness of the Crab Apple sits within an ancient forest, the sound of a nearby stream, and small creatures will soothe and relax you as you examine the range of indigenous trees, plants, and herbs that surround you.
Ferns and purple orchids grow along the path whilst further in the distance Silver Birch, Hornbeam, and Crab Apple trees thrive. In a clearing amongst this natural and undisturbed beauty lies the remnants of an abandoned campfire with large logs gathered around the central point of charred wood and ashes.’
We’re living in a fascinating time that could see Wolves and Lynx re-introduced into Scotland to tackle the Red Deer overpopulation, which hopefully will eventually result in the Scottish Highlands once again being covered in indegenous forests and woodlands. Something that hasn’t been seen or remembered for generations! There has been a pivotal shift in opinion with Rewilding projects in the last 5 years, and projects such as the Cornwall Beaver Project have shown just how successful these conservation projects can be. We’re hoping this is just the start and can’t wait to go and visit the Bison of Blean Woods.
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